The Dwarf Planet With a Secret Underground Ocean Reexamined


Dwarf planet Ceres was previously believed to be a relatively primitive chunk of rock. A few years ago, a NASA space probe, dubbed Dawn, unveiled that there’s more to Ceres than meets the eye. Now, we’re starting to discover how much more.

Planet Ceres is in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and is also one of the biggest asteroids in the Solar System and the only dwarf planet closer than Neptune. New research shows how odd yet intriguing Ceres is. Here is what you need to know.

Ceres’ Underground Ocean Might No Longer Be a Mystery

According to a recent analysis of Dawn data, the dwarf planet Ceres is an ocean world with a subsurface body of briny water. The data examined were gathered in the last phase of Dawn’s mission. Running out of fuel, the spaceship fell into an altitude of below 35 kilometers.

However, it succeeded in collecting the necessary data, 10 times greater than the prime mission, with a specific focus on the Occator crater. Dawn could record gravity oscillations in the crater at such a resolution on the scale of the geological units in and around it. These gravity variations, mixed with thermal simulations, indicate density oscillations consistent with a deep reservoir of brine beneath the Occator crater. 

The reservoir could have been mobilized by the heat and fracturing resulting from the impact, bursting up and out to produce the salt deposits found today. 

“We find that pre-existing tectonic cracks may provide pathways for deep brines to migrate within the crust, extending the regions affected by impacts and creating compositional heterogeneity,” detailed the researchers. 

A second study utilizing the gravity data, combined with shape data, showed that Ceres’ crust is porous, but that porosity lowers with depth. Such a thing could occur when the rocks mix with salt. 

But how the dwarf planet Ceres evolved and where it came from are both mysteries. A new mission to the planet was recently selected by NASA to be developed as a concept study. 

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