What’s inside dwarf planet Ceres? New study has the answer

While photos cannot reveal the interior of the dwarf planet Ceres, scientists have used data on its gravitational effects to determine what the insides of the celestial body might look like.

Ceres is the largest object in our Solar System’s asteroid belt and NASA’s Dawn probe entered into orbit around the protoplanet in April of 2015, allowing planetary scientists to study it. Because gravity dominates Dawn’s orbit at Ceres, researchers can assess distinctions in Ceres’ gravity by tracking small shifts in the movement of the spacecraft.

Using information from Dawn, researchers have mapped the distinctions in Ceres’ gravity that provided tantalizing hints about the dwarf planet’s internal makeup, according to new study in the journal Nature.

the Interior of Ceres

“The new data suggest that Ceres has a weak interior, and that water and other light materials partially separated from rock during a heating phase early in its history,” study author Ryan Park, a supervisor of the solar system dynamics group at NASA , said in a news release.

Ceres’ gravity has been assessed by tracking radio signals that were sent to Dawn, and then returned to Earth. These signals allowed the study team to assess the spacecraft’s speed to a precision of .004 inches per second, and then compute the important points of the gravity field based on the probe’s movements.

Ceres has a unique property known as “hydrostatic equilibrium,” which was validated in this study. This means that Ceres’ interior is sensitive enough that its form is dictated by how the protoplanet rotates. Researchers arrived at this conclusion by contrasting Ceres’ gravity field to its shape. Ceres’ hydrostatic equilibrium is one factor in classifying the body as a dwarf planet.

Detail of surface of Ceres

Ceres has been a body of interest for NASA for many years (Credit: NASA/JPL)

The information revealed Ceres is “differentiated,” meaning that it has very distinct layers at various depths, with the densest layer at the core. Researchers also have discovered that, as they suspected, Ceres is much less dense than Earth, our moon, and other rocky bodies in our solar system.

Ceres has long been thought to contain low-density materials like water ice, which the study indicated separated from the rocky material and went up to the outer layer together with other light materials.

“We have found that the divisions between different layers are less pronounced inside Ceres than the moon and other planets in our solar system,” Park said. “Earth, with its metallic core, semi-fluid mantle and outer crust, has a more clearly defined structure than Ceres,” Park said.

Researchers also learned that high-elevation spots on Ceres displace mass in the interior in the same way a boat displaces the water it floats on. Similarly, researchers conclude Ceres’ fragile mantle can be moved around by the mass of mountains and other high-elevation formations. This development has been seen on Earth and other planets.

By combining this new data with past studies, the study team concluded that water must have moved about the ancient subsurface of Ceres. However, the interior did not heat up to form a liquid metal core like Earth.


Image credit: NASA/JPL

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Source: Redorbit » Space
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