Water vapor observed venting from Ceres

  1. marcus

    marcus 23,938
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member
    2014 Award


    Herschel space telescope press release:

    Abstract of scholarly article published in Nature:
    Localized sources of water vapour on the dwarf planet (1) Ceres

    Michael Küppers, Laurence O’Rourke, Dominique Bockelée-Morvan, Vladimir Zakharov, Seungwon Lee, Paul von Allmen, Benoît Carry, David Teyssier, Anthony Marston, Thomas Müller, Jacques Crovisier, M. Antonietta Barucci & Raphael Moreno

    Nature 505, 525–527 (23 January 2014) doi:10.1038/nature12918
    Received 23 August 2013 Accepted 26 November 2013 Published online 22 January 2014

    The ‘snowline’ conventionally divides Solar System objects into dry bodies, ranging out to the main asteroid belt, and icy bodies beyond the belt. Models suggest that some of the icy bodies may have migrated into the asteroid belt1. Recent observations indicate the presence of water ice on the surface of some asteroids2, 3, 4, with sublimation5 a potential reason for the dust activity observed on others. Hydrated minerals have been found6, 7, 8 on the surface of the largest object in the asteroid belt, the dwarf planet (1) Ceres, which is thought to be differentiated into a silicate core with an icy mantle9, 10, 11. The presence of water vapour around Ceres was suggested by a marginal detection of the photodissociation product of water, hydroxyl (ref. 12), but could not be confirmed by later, more sensitive observations13. Here we report the detection of water vapour around Ceres, with at least 1026 molecules being produced per second, originating from localized sources that seem to be linked to mid-latitude regions on the surface14, 15. The water evaporation could be due to comet-like sublimation or to cryo-volcanism, in which volcanoes erupt volatiles such as water instead of molten rocks.

    The water vapor was seen by the European telescope HERSCHEL which operated 2009-2013.
    This telescope was positioned at the Sun-Earth L2 point, 1.5 million km straight out from Earth.
    If things go as planned, the spacecraft Dawn will arrive at Ceres in March of 2015 and will be able to observe surface features and activity up close.
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2014
  2. jcsd
  3. Nugso

    Nugso 159
    Gold Member

    Hi, marcus. Could you please tell me how we know it's a water vapor? Can we analyze something just by its 'apperance'?

    I'm sorry if it's explained in the articles you've shared. I tried waded through them, but couldn't really understand.
  4. D H

    Staff: Mentor

    Yes. That is the key purpose of remote sensing. Telescopes are, in a sense, remote sensing devices. Chemicals and elements exhibit very distinctive emission lines where the chemical undergoes some quantum mechanical change of state. One of the instruments on the Herschel telescope was a spectrometer. Spectroscopy is a very powerful tool for detecting elements and compounds, even in trace amounts. For example, if the spectrogram shows sharp spikes at 557 GHz and 1113 GHz, that means you are seeing water.
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  5. Nugso

    Nugso 159
    Gold Member

    Thanks, DH! So, it's kind of similar to the way we find out what kind of atoms the Sun has such as hellium?( I guess I read that part in Lawrence's book "A universe from nothing")
  6. So if Ceres has lots of water, does that make it a better colonization prospect then Mars?
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