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Bright Spot On Ceres Is Cryovolcano, Scientists Say

First Posted: Mar 08, 2017 03:40 AM EST
Bright Spot On Ceres
Bright spot on Ceres is actually an icy volcano, scientists say.
(Photo : Wochit News/YouTube screenshot)

Ever since NASA's Dawn spacecraft decided to take a closer look at Ceres, it has been puzzled by the dwarf planet's unusual bright spot. It is a material that spread across the Occator crater.

The material distribution, which appeared to be carbonate salts, suggested that in the crater are icy brines -- or lava-like substances made of salt and water. These once oozed to the surface as a form of cryovolcanism, although the crater itself is likely to be formed by a large impact.

Gizmodo reported that NASA's Dawn's framing camera leads investigators to think that the age and appearance of the material indicated that Cerealia Facula, as it was called, was formed by a recurring eruptive process. It incidentally also hurled material into more outward regions of the pit. Andreas Nathues, who led the team studying the crater, shared that "a single eruptive event is rather unlikely."

The Occator crater is located in the northern hemisphere of Ceres and measures around 92 kilometers in diameter with a center pit of about 11 kilometers in diameter. Around parts of its edges are jagged mountains and steep slopes of up to 750 meters high, while the pit itself formed a bright dome with a diameter of 3 kilometers and is said to be 400 meters hight, with prominent fractures seen along the crater.

Astrobio.net noted that the dome itself contains the brightest materials on Ceres, with the VIR data showing that it is rich in salts or so-called carbonates. Later impacts of the area did not explore other material from the depth of the crater. However, the dome is theorized to have consisted entirely of bright material with scattered bright spots of Vinalia Faculae located further outside the crater and in paler layers.

The Occator crater is not the first evidence of icy volcanoes on Ceres. In fact, this has been among the top hypothesis that explained how the bright, salty things could have scattered across the planet's surface. It may not be enough for humans to understand Ceres. But with more and more companies looking to find possible living things on other planets, this could help shed light on how a planet works to see its sun.

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