A snapshot of Ceres’ surface, with overlaid animation showing the locations of “bright spots” that reflect sunlight. Scientists have discovered that one of these bright spots contain water ice. Credit: Nature Video
Surprisingly, researchers have concluded that 10 percent of the dwarf planet’s surface is made of water which is frozen into ice. The study detailing the discovery was published in the journal Nature. “…it is technically possible that it (the subsurface ocean) could support life.”
Water ice has been confirmed at the poles of Dwarf planet Ceres. The ice buried in the craters of the darker regions of the dwarf planet, where the Sun never reaches, could be a signal that points directly to the existence of an ocean below the surface and, therefore, the possibility that it contains a form of undiscovered alien life.
Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt of the Solar System, is the third planetary body behind Mercury and the Moon, where ice has been detected in Polar Regions.
A subsurface ocean could host bizarre alien lifeforms. Credit: Nature Video
Although sunlight partially bathes the poles of the dwarf planet, it never gets to warm the surface enough, maintaining the surface temperature around 150 degrees Celsius below zero, acting as a true “cold trap.”
Experts suggest that the “dark regions” of these latitudes represent about 2,129 square kilometers of the surface of Ceres.
“By finding bodies that were water-rich in the distant past, we can discover clues as to where life may have existed in the early solar system,” said Carol Raymond, lead scientists of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, via Reuters.
Recently, researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research analyzed images of craters in the northern polar region of Ceres taken by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft and identified locations of perpetual shades in at least 634 craters; of which only 10 had “bright spots” reflecting high levels of sunlight.
By studying the wavelengths of light reflected from these patches – spectroscopy – scientists identified reflective surfaces containing water ice.
Although water is associated with life on Earth, Thomas Platz, one of the principal investigators, maintains skepticism as to how this might be the case with Ceres.
“It’s pretty cold in these permanent shadows — about 60 Kelvin [minus 351 degrees Fahrenheit, minus 213 degrees Celsius],” Platz said. “I presently don’t see how life can form in such places.”
It remains uncertain how much ice these craters on Ceres might hold “because it’s hard to measure shadowed regions,” Platz said. Still, “the deposit of ice in at least one crater appears quite thick, maybe meters thick.”