Dwarf planet Ceres gives off gassy water

Water escapes from two spots on Ceres' surface as the dwarf planet orbits the sun in this artist’s impression. 

IMCCE-Observatoire de Paris / CNRS / Y. Gominet, B. Carry

Ceres — the largest asteroid in the solar system — has water.

The idea that the dwarf planet, which sits 270 million kilometers from Earth in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, holds water is more than 30 years old but has been hard to confirm. Now, astronomers report observations that Ceres releases water molecules from two distinct spots on its surface. The overall vapor loss is 6 kilograms per second and could come from ice changing directly to a gas or from ice volcanoes, the team writes in the Jan. 23 Nature.

Confirming Ceres has water also supports the idea that icy bodies, such as comets, may have migrated into the asteroid belt as the solar system was forming. 

photo of Ashley Yeager

Ashley Yeager is the associate news editor at Science News. She has worked at The Scientist, the Simons Foundation, Duke University and the W.M. Keck Observatory, and was the web producer for Science News from 2013 to 2015. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.

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