Stunning NASA image reveals mysterious ice mountain on the dwarf planet Ceres that scientists say is like ‘nothing humanity has ever seen before’
- Mountain, Ahuna Mons, is ‘the largest mountain on the largest known asteroid in our solar system,’ NASA says
- Experts suspect it may be evidence of mud bubble from deep inside planet that froze after breaching surface
- The image shared this week on NASA’s Astronomy Pictured of the Day was made using detailed surface maps
A stunning new image constructed from surface maps has revealed a close-up look at the otherworldly features on the surface of Ceres.
NASA’s now-retired Dawn spacecraft reached the dwarf planet in 2015, making it the first to visit an object of this kind.
And, it uncovered many peculiarities.
The strange looking mountain in the latest image featured on NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day highlights one such oddity; while it’s unclear what exactly spurred its formation, experts suspect it may be evidence of a mud bubble from deep inside the planet that froze over after breaching the surface.
A stunning new image constructed from surface maps has revealed a close-up look at the otherworldly features on the surface of Ceres. According to the space agency, the unusual mountain is ‘like nothing that humanity has ever seen before.’ The image was created using detailed surface maps
Ceres has garnered much intrigue after the Dawn mission snapped images of mysterious bright spots on its surface. But, detailed observations from the spacecraft revealed these aren’t its only treasures.
The image shared this week was created using surface maps taken during 2016.
The mountain, called Ahuna Mons, is ‘the largest mountain on the largest known asteroid in our solar system,’ NASA says.
Ceres sits in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
According to the space agency, the unusual mountain is ‘like nothing that humanity has ever seen before.’
‘The new hypothesis, based on numerous gravity measurements, holds that a bubble of mud rose from deep within the dwarf planet and pushed through the icy surface at a weak point rich in reflective salt — and then froze,’ NASA says.
‘The bright streaks are thought to be similar to other recently surfaced material such as visible in Ceres’ famous bright spots.’
Ceres has garnered much intrigue after the Dawn mission snapped images of mysterious bright spots on its surface, as seen in the image above
Since its discovery, scientists have speculated on the possibility that Ceres may be able to support life.
An analysis published in 2018 based on data from the Dawn spacecraft suggests previously-identified patches of organic material on the surface may contain much higher abundance of carbon-based compounds than initially estimated.
NASA’s now-retired Dawn spacecraft reached the dwarf planet in 2015, making it the first to visit an object of this kind
While it doesn’t mean life exists on the dwarf planet, the discovery adds new clues to the question of Ceres’ potential habitability.
Scientists first announced the discovery of organic material – a necessary component for the existence of life – in 2017.
Organics can be produced through non-biological processes as well. Just how they arrived on Ceres, however, remains a mystery.
As the planet is also known to contain an abundance of water ice, scientists say the possibility of more widespread organic material is worth investigating.
According to the researchers, there are two likely explanations for Ceres’ organic material: production on the planet itself and later exposed to the surface, or import from an impact by a comet.
WHAT IS THE DWARF PLANET CERES AND WHY IS NASA STUDYING IT?
Ceres is 590 miles (950 km) across and was discovered in 1801.
It is the closest dwarf planet to the sun and is located in the asteroid belt, making it the only dwarf planet in the inner solar system.
While it is the smallest of the known dwarf planets, it is the largest object in the asteroid belt.
It lies less than three times as far as Earth from the sun – close enough to feel the warmth of the star, allowing ice to melt and reform.
Nasa’s Dawn spacecraft made its way to Ceres after leaving the asteroid Vesta in 2012.
There is high interest in the mission because Ceres is seen as being a record of the early solar system.