Everyone’s favorite non-Pluto dwarf planet, Ceres, seems to be hiding a few tricks up its (presumably still pretty giant) sleeve. It isn’t just the largest object in the asteroid belt — according to new research, it may have also once harbored a massive ocean.
Researchers at Harvard University have modeled Ceres’ crust using data collected by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, which is currently in orbit around the dwarf planet, and will continue studying it until it runs out of fuel.
The team found that Ceres’ crust is “likely a mixture of ice, salts, rock and an additional component believed to be clathrate hydrate,” according to NASA.. Clathrate hydrates are solid “cages” of water.
Based on their models, the researchers have concluded that Ceres’ surface appears the way it does because a world-spanning ocean existed at some point in the dwarf planet’s distant past. It appears that, over the course of billions of years, some of the world’s more extreme features have smoothed down quite a bit, possibly because of the ocean’s presence beneath Ceres’ crust. The team thinks Ceres might still have a little liquid remaining inside — and that it might not be entirely frozen, even after about four billion years.
Clearly, much more data would have to be collected from Dawn to investigate the existence of this supposed ocean. Still, this is an exciting step toward uncovering a part of Ceres we’ve physically never seen, since Ceres appears to be so icy and muddy. What this seemingly uninspiring world lacks in cuteness it makes up for tenfold in character, apparently.