Giant Ice Volcanoes Once Covered Dwarf Planet Ceres

This view of the dwarf planet Ceres shows the mountain and likely „ice volcano“ Ahuna Mons on the right edge and the bright spots of the Occator crater in the bottom left. New research suggests that multiple ice volcanoes once dotted Ceres‘ surface. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA
Dozens of ancient ice volcanoes once dotted the surface of the dwarf planet Ceres, a new study finds.

By Charles Q. Choi |

Whereas regular volcanoes on Earth erupt with molten rock, ice volcanoes — which are also known as cryovolcanoes — spew out plumes of water-ice and other frozen molecules. Previous research has detected traces of cryovolcanism on several bodies in the outer solar system, such as Saturn’s moon Enceladus and Pluto. However, much remains unknown about cryovulcanism, especially compared with regular volcanism.

In 2015, NASA’s Dawn spacecraft discovered a 2.5-mile-high (4 kilometers), dome-shaped cryovolcano dubbed Ahuna Mons on Ceres. With a diameter of about 585 miles (940 km), Ceres is the largest member of the asteroid belt located between Mars and Jupiter. [Dwarf Planet Ceres‘ Bizarre Bright Spots Shine in Stunning Up-Close View]

„Ceres is the only cryovolcanic body we’ve orbited with a spacecraft,“ study lead author Michael Sori, a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona at Tucson, told „This is the best opportunity we’ve had so far to learn more about the similarities and differences between cryovolcanism and regular volcanism.“

Based on the number and size of meteor craters that Ahuna Mons has engulfed and the estimated rate of meteor strikes that Ceres has experienced, prior work suggested that Ahuna Mons is at most 240 million years old. (Like the rest of the solar system, Ceres itself formed about 4.56 billion years ago.)

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