Evidence is mounting around the cryovolcanic history of the solar system’s innermost dwarf planet — and its most recent eruptions may have happened within the last four million years.
Since NASA’s Dawn mission arrived at dwarf planet Ceres in 2015, we’ve been treated to some wonderfully detailed images of the small world’s pockmarked terrain. Understanding the underlying processes of what is believed to be an ice-filled celestial body, however, is taking some time to decipher. But with more observations comes more understanding and planetary scientists are getting close to realizing what lies beneath those craters and, possibly, unlocking the secrets behind a very icy and very alien phenomenon we have no experience of in our terrestrial lives.
That phenomenon is cryovolcanoes. And Ceres certainly seems to have them.
The most startling feature on Ceres is Occator Crater. This 57 mile-wide feature is the result of a massive impact tens of millions of years ago. Large craters on small worlds isn’t necessarily a strange thing for our battered solar system, but what is strange about Occator is the very bright feature (and small bright patches surrounding it) in the crater’s center. Even before Dawn arrived in orbit and only fuzzy ...