Though dwarf planet Ceres doesn’t get the attention Pluto does, it clearly wants scientists to know that it’s also very lovable and interesting.
According to a new study published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances, the largest object in the asteroid belt is still evolving.
A team of scientists using a visible-infrared mapping spectrometer onboard NASA’s Dawn spacecraft observed the carbonate absorption bands on Ceres. Finding carbonate — a kind of salt from carbonic acid — is critical for astronomers and astrobiologists, since it’s usually a sign of water. For context, scientists have known since at least 2016 that Ceres is hiding a ton of water in ice. Water could comprise about 30 percent of the dwarf planet’s mass.
This group found that carbonates are indeed all over Ceres’ surface, but that certain carbonates are hydrated while others are not. The sodium carbonates in particular were widely distributed “near impact craters with domes or mounds,” Science Advances says in a statement.
It’s possible that fluids from below Ceres’ surface occasionally rise to the surface, which could explain the presence of those hydrated carbonates and why they’re found so close to the impact craters.
The scientists posit that the presence of hydrated sodium carbonate is probably pretty recent — maybe a few million-years-old. In space-time, that’s not very long, which means this process of hydration and dehydration is evidence Ceres is still in a state of change.
“The different chemical forms of the sodium carbonate, their fresh appearance, morphological settings, and the uneven distribution on Ceres indicate that the formation, exposure, dehydration, and destruction processes of carbonates are recurrent and continuous in recent geological time, implying a still-evolving body and modern processes involving fluid water,” the researchers write.
Sure, Ceres isn’t Pluto — but it doesn’t have to be. It’s still full of watery wonders yet to be explained.