By Lenny Pierce
Astronomers have confirmed the presence of water on the dwarf planet Ceres, finding it in the form of massive plumes of vapor shooting from its surface. Orbiting at 2.8 astronomical units in a region called the asteroid belt, Ceres appears to be shooting off clouds of water vapor that may be the product of sublimation (water going directly from ice to vapor) or possibly the discharge of ice volcanoes on the planet’s frozen surface. This discovery represents the first definitive evidence of water on not just this dwarf planet, but on any object in the asteroid belt.
Suspicions of water on the Ceres dwarf planet (also referred to as a giant asteroid) have circulated for 30 years or so. A 1991 study found evidence of water in the form of hydroxide but was not able to confirm these findings with subsequent studies. It was not until this most recent study that Michael Kuppers and his team at the European Space Agency were able to officially confirm these suspicions. “This is the first clear-cut detection of water on Ceres and in the asteroid belt in general,” said Kuppers.