The dwarf planet Ceres may hide a subterranean sea

Deposits of a mineral only found in sea ice suggests a briny body of water below.

The dwarf planet Ceres — the largest asteroid in the solar system — may harbor a briny sea beneath its surface.

Intimate images shot by NASA’s space probe Dawn — some from as close as 22 miles away — have revealed the presence of a mineral that is formed only in salty water, leading scientists to believe the planet has a large underground reservoir.

If that’s the case, this could have huge implications in our search for habitable exoplanets. A group of studies published on Monday reveal that the salty deposits are only a couple million years old  — practically swaddling age for geologic features — and that the minerals still have faint traces of water in them. This could mean that geological activity is still occurring — which would make the dwarf planet Ceres an active world.

“We can now say that Ceres is a sort of ocean world, as are some of Saturn’s and Jupiter’s moons,” Maria Cristina De Sanctis, a planetary scientist at Rome’s Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica and author on the Nature Astronomy paper, told AFP.

From hydrothermal vent dwellers to deep-sea microbes, we know that life is shockingly good at, uh, finding a way, and the dwarf planet Ceres’ chthonian sea is gravid with potential that it once harbored life — or perhaps still does. (A fitting tribute to its namesake, the Roman goddess of fertility, among other things.)

“The material found on Ceres is extremely important in terms of astrobiology,” De Sanctis said. “We know that these minerals are all essential for the emergence of life.”

The brine deposits forced up from the dwarf planet Ceres’ possible underground reservoir. NASA / Reuters

We’d love to hear from you! If you have a comment about this article or if you have a tip for a future Freethink story, please email us at [email protected]

Related
NASA’s “Lucy” will take a 40,000-mile detour to visit this asteroid
NASA has added a tenth asteroid flyby to the record-breaking Lucy mission so that it can test a new asteroid-tracking system.
This near-Earth asteroid is 4.2 billion years old and nearly indestructible
By analyzing just three dust particles, researchers learned that the rubble pile asteroid Itokawa is 4.2 billion years old and hard to kill.
Rare Martian meteorite is full of complex carbon molecules
A 650-million-years-old meteorite found in Africa shows the rich and complex chemistry that once happened on Mars.
Cosmic dust from Venus is inspiring new air pollution-busting technology
Inspired by chemistry observed on the surface of Venus, researchers produced a synthetic material that could improve air quality.
Jupiter’s hot “pizza moon” may contain life
Jupiter’s moon Io is thought to be inhospitable, but new data suggests life could exist underground, perhaps in lava tubes.
Up Next
Human Mission to Mars
Subscribe to Freethink for more great stories