Water plays big role in shaping dwarf planet Ceres

Ahuna Mons on Ceres

The 4-kilometer-high mountain Ahuna Mons on the dwarf planet Ceres is probably a cryovolcano, new findings suggest. This photo was assembled from images taken by the Dawn spacecraft.


Ice volcanoes, patches of water ice and a slew of hydrated minerals paint a picture of dwarf planet Ceres as a geologically active world — one where water has played a starring role. That’s the theme of six papers in the Sept. 2 Science that describe data collected by the Dawn spacecraft.

A 4-kilometer-high mountain dubbed Ahuna Mons, with its bowl-shaped summit and ridged flanks, has the appearance of a cryovolcano — one that erupts water instead of magma. The relatively young Oxo crater also appears to be home to splotches of frozen water. Given that ice should last only tens to hundreds of years on Ceres’ surface, the patches must be recent additions, possibly exposed by a landslide or impact with a meteorite. The surface is also slathered with a class of minerals known as phyllosilicates — silicon-bearing substances that form in the presence of water — which further support the idea that water has been present throughout Ceres’ history.

Ceres is the largest body between Mars and Jupiter. Dawn has been orbiting Ceres since March 6, 2015 (SN: 4/4/15, p. 9), studying its geology and composition to better understand the formation of rocky worlds. 

headshot of Associate News Editor Christopher Crockett

Christopher Crockett is an Associate News Editor. He was formerly the astronomy writer from 2014 to 2017, and he has a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.

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