Dwarf Planet Ceres is Still Evolving and Changing Its Surface

Thursday, 15 March 2018 - 8:18PM
Space
Solar System
Thursday, 15 March 2018 - 8:18PM
Dwarf Planet Ceres is Still Evolving and Changing Its Surface
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NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA
NASA has watched their Dawn spacecraft orbit around the dwarf planet Ceres for about three years, deciding to keep it there permanently last October. This proved a wise decision, since Ceres is more interesting than anybody realized.

According to new research being published in Science Advances, Ceres is a dynamic body that's constantly shifting around on its surface. Previous looks at the dwarf planet had already shown that it's covered in spots of ice, but recent data from Dawn shows more exposed ice has suddenly appeared in a 12 mile (20 kilometer) stretch in the Juling Crater.

In short, something on the otherwise quiet dwarf planet caused a commotion and  brought more ice to the surface.



This is the first major sign of any changes on Ceres over the past few years of study, and that's drawing a lot of attention from astronomers - Ceres is the only known dwarf planet in the inner solar system rather than its outskirts (Pluto and several other dwarf planets are inside the Kuiper Belt on the outer edge of our solar system), and a spot we could conceivably visit one day.

According to the study's lead author Andrea Raponi, of the Institute of Astrophysics and Planetary Science in Rome, all of the new exposed ice is probably caused by Ceres moving closer toward the sun, making its surface much warmer than the far off and frozen Pluto ever gets. She said the following in a press statement from NASA:

Opening quote
"This is the first direct detection of change on the surface of Ceres. The combination of Ceres moving closer to the sun in its orbit, along with seasonal change, triggers the release of water vapor from the subsurface, which then condenses on the cold crater wall. This causes an increase in the amount of exposed ice. The warming might also cause landslides on the crater walls that expose fresh ice patches."
Closing quote





This is especially interesting as it lends credence to the prediction that Ceres may briefly have an atmosphere soon, although not for very long. As Ceres moves closer to the sun, it will soon reach its closest point (called its perihelion) this coming April, and it's possible that enough of the exposed ice could evaporate into water vapor and form a temporary atmosphere.

The Dawn mission is expected to stay at Ceres indefinitely from this point forward, so it's very likely that we'll see more developments about the dwarf planet soon. Especially if more ice comes out for Ceres' temporary summer.
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