Scientists claim a robotic probe spotted an ice volcano on the asteroid Ceres.
Researchers found evidence of an ice volcano from using images from NASA’s Dawn probe to date nearby rocks. Knowing the age of these rocks allowed scientists to determine that an icy “cryovolcano” was the best explanation for a natural phenomenon spotted on Ceres, according to scientists at the German Max Planck Institute (MPI).
“The age and appearance of the material surrounding the bright dome indicate that Cerealia Facula was formed by a recurring, eruptive process, which also hurled material into more outward regions of the central pit,” Andreas Nathues, a scientist at MPI involved in the research, said in a press statement. “The large impact that tore the giant Occator crater into the surface of the dwarf planet must have originally started everything and triggered the later cryovolcanic activity.”
Ceres is the largest object our solar system’s asteroid belt and lies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Its has a diameter of roughly 587 miles. Scientists first suspected a cryovolcanoes were on Ceres due to a dome of bright material. Recent eruptions likely created the material and make in fact be ongoing at a lower level today.
Dawn was launched in 2007 and started exploring the large asteroids of Vesta and Ceres in 2011. The team operating the craft says it has enough fuel to visit a third asteroid, according to Universe Today.
The actual destination Dawn could visit remains unclear, but the mission could further test Dawn’s novel ion-drive propulsion system. Ion drives accelerate very slowly, but can keep generating thrust over long periods of time using minimal fuel. NASA is currently testing ion drive technology for future Mars and asteroid missions.
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