There's A Ton Of Water On Dwarf Planet Ceres

Scientists have always had a hunch, and now they have direct evidence: there is a whole lot of water ice beneath the surface of dwarf planet Ceres.

Related: Pluto Was Named By An 11-Year-Old Girl

Water, Water, Everywhere

The only dwarf planet located in the inner solar system—that is, the area before you get to Jupiter—Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Still, it's dwarfed (see what we did there?) by its dwarf-planet pal Pluto, which is 14 times more massive. In 2005, astronomers estimated that as much as 30 percent of its total mass could be made up of water ice. In 2016, data from NASA's Dawn spacecraft all but confirmed that estimate: at high latitudes, water ice may make up 27 percent of its mass, although the concentration drops near the equator.

Related: Cryovolcanoes Spew Water And Ice On Enceladus

That's huge. Take Vesta, the second biggest object in that asteroid belt. Ceres's hydrogen content—the telltale sign of water—is more than 100 times that of Vesta, and in a more even distribution. What's more, another study even found ice on the surface itself.

Why Does This Matter?

Before you get too excited, remember this is ice, not liquid water, and it's buried beneath a rocky outer layer. The really impressive thing about it is how long it has existed. It's proof, according to study author Thomas Prettyman, "that ice can survive for billions of years just beneath the surface of Ceres. The evidence strengthens the case for the presence of near-surface water ice on other main belt asteroids."

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Written by Ashley Hamer January 6, 2017

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