Insulating Crust kept Cryomagma Liquid on Ceres

Insulating Crust kept Cryomagma Liquid on Ceres

Insulating Crust kept Cryomagma Liquid on Ceres
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Researchers from the University of Texas joined forces with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) of NASA to get some incredible insights about the volcanic activity of Ceres.

According to the latest research published in the journal ‘Geophysical Research Letters’, white spots of salt were found on the surface of Ceres. Scientists showed that certain variations in the volcanic activity of the dwarf planet led to these brilliant spots. They further suggested that it can play a massive role in mixing the materials for life on other worlds, which adds some serious worth to this discovery.

Volcanoes on Ceres

The volcanoes on Ceres are known as ‘Cryovolcanoes’. This type of volcanoes is specific to the planetary bodies with icy shells. Such a volcano extracts ‘Cryomagma’ (salty water) from underground reservoirs of a body and transports it to the surface. Prior to this finding, researchers have observed Cryovolcanoes on Europa (an icy moon of Jupiter) and found that it assists the foster chemical mixing that could lead to complex molecules. This discovery will help them to improve their understanding of the working of these volcanoes on Ceres and other worlds. Marc Hesse, an Associate Professor at the University of Texas and the Lead Author of the research, talked about cryovolcanism and said,

“Cryovolcanism looks to be a really important system as we look for life. So we’re trying to understand these ice shells and how they behave.”

Active Days of Ceres

Ceres is the largest planetary body in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, with a diameter of about 585 miles. Given its age and huge distances from other planets, scientists previously believed that geologically active days of Ceres are over but the latest images of the planetary body (taken by the Dawn Mission of NASA) has brought a significant change in these views. The pictures showed bright, white spots of Cryomagma at the bottom of the impact craters. The precise location of these spots indicates that the energy produced by asteroid impacts can initiate geology on Ceres, which created reservoirs of Cryomagma that were then transferred to the surface through conduits.


The researching team of Hesse specifically focused on the floor of Occator, a 90-mile-wide crater that was formed around 20 million years ago. Researchers found that these deposits were barely 4 million years old. It was a clear indication of the fact that this formation is much younger than the crater itself.

They also consulted previous studies about the geological conditions on Ceres and found that the Cryomagma generated by the impact of Occator couldn’t exist for more than 400,000 years. This resulted in a massive ambiguity about the age discrepancy of the impact timing and salt deposits. The latest paper extended the life of Cryomagma significantly by considering the updated details on the crustal Physics and Chemistry of Ceres. Julie Castillo-Rogez, a Planetary Scientist at JPL and the Co-author of the study, referred to that by saying,

“It’s difficult to maintain liquid so close to the surface. But our new model includes materials inside the crust that tend to act as insulators consistent with the results from the Dawn observations.”

Jennifer Scully, a Planetary Geologist at JPL who wasn’t involved in the study, acknowledged the importance of this finding and mentioned that it is a great contribution towards unraveling the geologic history of an alien world. She said,

“They used more up-to-date data to create their model. This will help in the future to see if all of the material involved in the observed deposits can be explained by the impact, or does this require a connection to a deeper source of material. It’s a great step in the right direction of answering that question.”

New Calculations

The latest calculations made by the researching team predict that the Cryomagma of Occator may last up to 10 million years. Although it doesn’t cover the time gap completely, it is a clear indication that the data gathered through this mission will help scientists to paint a more realistic cooling machine. Hesse explained that in the following words:

“Now that we’re accounting for all these negative feedbacks on cooling — the fact that you release latent heat, the fact that as you warm up the crust it becomes less conductive — you can begin to argue that if the ages are just off by a few million years you might get it.”

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