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Ceres is Now an Ocean World

Ceres is Now an Ocean World

Context:

Scientists from NASA have now given Ceres (dwarf planet) the status of an “ocean world” after analyzing data collected by Dawn spacecraft.

Earlier findings:

  • Ceres has a big reservoir of salty water underneath its frigid surface. 
  • The salty water originated in a brine reservoir spread hundreds of miles and about 40 km beneath the surface of the Ceres.
  • Further, there is evidence that Ceres remains geologically active with cryovolcanism - volcanoes oozing icy material.
  • Instead of molten rock, cryovolcanoes, or salty-mud volcanoes release frigid, salty water sometimes mixed with mud.

Ocean world means:

  • Ocean Worlds is a term for ‘Water in the Solar System and Beyond’.
  • Ceres is a crucial piece of the ocean world. It has a crust that mixes ice, salts, rock-forming minerals, and other materials,
  • Ceres looks to be a remnant “ocean world,” wearing the chemistry of its old ocean and records of the interaction on its surface.”
  • Scientists are exploring ocean worlds because they may support life.
  • In 2018, the spacecraft dipped to less than 35 km above the surface of the dwarf planet, due to which it was able to collect data in a higher resolution.
  • Now, by analyzing this data scientists have determined that Ceres has a brine reservoir located about 40 km deep and which is hundreds of miles wide.

Dwarf Planets:

  • According to the International Astronomical Union (IAU), a dwarf planet is a celestial body that orbits the sun, has enough mass to assume a nearly round shape, has not cleared the neighborhood around its orbit and is not a moon.
  • There are officially five dwarf planets in Solar System Pluto, Eris, Makemake, Haumea, and Ceres.
  • The sixth claimant for a dwarf planet is Hygiea, which so far has been taken to be an asteroid.
  • Earlier, astronomers found that Hygiea may possibly be a dwarf planet since it satisfied the four criteria set by IAU for a dwarf planet.
  • However, an ocean world in Ceres was not expected, since it is too far away from the Sun and is too small to have radioactive materials to keep the oceans liquid for most of the dwarf planet’s history.
  • There are other dwarf planets and moons where oceans exist such as the moons of Saturn and Jupiter.

About Ceres:

  • It is the largest celestial object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
  • Ceres has a diameter of about 950 km, which is more than one-fourth of Earth’s moon.
  • There is a 92 km wide crater named Occator located in Ceres’ northern hemisphere. This crater is said to have formed by an impact approximately 22 million years ago.

Source: Indian Express