Telescope spies water plumes on dwarf planet Ceres

Jan 22, 2014 by Alicia Chang
This artist rendering released by IMCCE (Institut de Mecanique Celeste et de Calcul des Ephemerides) shows water plumes spewing from the surface of the dwarf planet Ceres. Scientists led by the European Space Agency observed the plumes and reported their findings in the Jan. 23, 2014 issue of the journal Nature. (AP Photo/ IMCCE, Paris Observatory, CNRS)

(Phys.org) —Scientists using the Herschel space observatory have made the first definitive detection of water vapor on the largest and roundest object in the asteroid belt, Ceres.

Plumes of water vapor are thought to shoot up periodically from Ceres when portions of its icy surface warm slightly. Ceres is classified as a dwarf planet, a body bigger than an asteroid and smaller than a planet.

"This is the first time water vapor has been unequivocally detected on Ceres or any other object in the and provides proof that Ceres has an icy surface and an atmosphere," said Michael Küppers of ESA in Spain, lead author of a paper in the journal Nature.

The results come at the right time for NASA's Dawn mission, which is on its way to Ceres now after spending more than a year orbiting the large asteroid Vesta. Dawn is scheduled to arrive at Ceres in the spring of 2015, where it will take the closest look ever at its surface.

"We've got a spacecraft on the way to Ceres, so we don't have to wait long before getting more context on this intriguing result, right from the source itself," said Carol Raymond, the deputy principal investigator for Dawn at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "Dawn will map the geology and chemistry of the surface in high resolution, revealing the processes that drive the outgassing activity."

For the last century, Ceres was known as the largest asteroid in our solar system. But in 2006, the International Astronomical Union, the governing organization responsible for naming planetary objects, reclassified Ceres as a because of its large size. It is roughly 590 miles (950 kilometers) in diameter. When it first was spotted in 1801, astronomers thought it was a planet orbiting between Mars and Jupiter. Later, other cosmic bodies with similar orbits were found, marking the discovery of our solar system's main belt of asteroids.

Scientists believe Ceres contains rock in its interior with a thick mantle of ice that, if melted, would amount to more fresh water than is present on all of Earth. The materials making up Ceres likely date from the first few million years of our solar system's existence and accumulated before the planets formed.

Artist’s impression of Ceres. Observations by ESA’s Herschel space observatory between 2011 and 2013 find that the dwarf planet has a thin water-vapour atmosphere. The inset shows the water absorption signal detected by Herschel on 11 October 2012. Credit: ESA/ATG medialab/Küppers et al.

Until now, ice had been theorized to exist on Ceres but had not been detected conclusively. It took Herschel's far-infrared vision to see, finally, a clear spectral signature of the water vapor. But Herschel did not see water vapor every time it looked. While the telescope spied water vapor four different times, on one occasion there was no signature.

Here is what scientists think is happening: when Ceres swings through the part of its orbit that is closer to the sun, a portion of its icy surface becomes warm enough to cause water vapor to escape in plumes at a rate of about 6 kilograms (13 pounds) per second. When Ceres is in the colder part of its orbit, no water escapes.

The strength of the signal also varied over hours, weeks and months, because of the water vapor plumes rotating in and out of Herschel's views as the object spun on its axis. This enabled the scientists to localize the source of water to two darker spots on the surface of Ceres, previously seen by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and ground-based telescopes. The dark spots might be more likely to outgas because dark material warms faster than light material. When the Dawn spacecraft arrives at Ceres, it will be able to investigate these features.

The results are somewhat unexpected because comets, the icier cousins of asteroids, are known typically to sprout jets and plumes, while objects in the asteroid belt are not.

"The lines are becoming more and more blurred between comets and asteroids," said Seungwon Lee of JPL, who helped with the water vapor models along with Paul von Allmen, also of JPL. "We knew before about main belt asteroids that show comet-like activity, but this is the first detection of vapor in an asteroid-like object."

Explore further: Ice on Ceres: 'An Interesting Paradox'

More information: Paper: dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature12918

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User comments : 25

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Maggnus
5 / 5 (5) Jan 22, 2014
Cool! Dawn's visit just got even more interesting.
mark0101
5 / 5 (1) Jan 22, 2014
I thought Herschel shutdown in April 2013..
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (4) Jan 22, 2014
"This is the first time water vapor has been unequivocally detected on Ceres or any other object in the asteroid belt and provides proof that Ceres has an icy surface and an atmosphere," said Michael Küppers of ESA


Proof? He must not be aware of the research released today that describes a different process about how that water got there.
http://phys.org/n...firstCmt
Whydening Gyre
4.2 / 5 (5) Jan 22, 2014
The operative term in the title of your linked reference is "Suggests"
Returners
2 / 5 (4) Jan 22, 2014
Dawn will map the geology and chemistry of the surface in high resolution, revealing the processes that drive the outgassing activity.


I forget. how soon will Dawn actually turn on again and start taking photos and other science measurements for Ceres?

Will there be any other missions for Dawn, or will it be put in permanent orbit around Ceres? Is it going to run out of fuel and propellant any time soon?
shavera
5 / 5 (7) Jan 22, 2014
I know reading may not be your strong suit cantdrive... but do please try to at least make it at least to the very first sentence of the article you linked:
Water ice is the most abundant solid material in the universe. Much of it was created as the byproduct of star formation, but not all.
Whydening Gyre
not rated yet Jan 22, 2014
Water "plumes" infers a pressure of some sort driving it. In that water would only "plume" if above freezing, with the new inference of a heat source, correct? Of course, it would freeze immediately upon entering space.
This does make Dawn's mission more interesting...
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (3) Jan 22, 2014
I know reading may not be your strong suit cantdrive... but do please try to at least make it at least to the very first sentence of the article you linked:
Water ice is the most abundant solid material in the universe. Much of it was created as the byproduct of star formation, but not all.

Yep. Did you have a point? As it states, "but not all"...

If you read my comment, I was questioning this guys claim of "proof". The ref'd process suggests his claim of "proof" is just speculation.
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (1) Jan 22, 2014
Oops - My bad. Just realized it could be surface water evaporation, as well...
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (3) Jan 22, 2014
Water "plumes" infers a pressure of some sort driving it. In that water would only "plume" if above freezing, with the new inference of a heat source, correct? Of course, it would freeze immediately upon entering space.
This does make Dawn's mission more interesting...

In every other instance where there is a plume the claimed process is "gravitational kneading", such process doesn't seem credible in this instance.

Once again plasma discharge could be the culprit without need of instigating magical forces.
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (1) Jan 23, 2014
Once again plasma discharge could be the culprit without need of instigating magical forces.


Similar in effect to say, oh... a tesla coil?
Sinister1812
5 / 5 (3) Jan 23, 2014
Would be nice to see some close-ups of Ceres.. That'd be great.
Fleetfoot
5 / 5 (4) Jan 23, 2014
Water "plumes" infers a pressure of some sort driving it. In that water would only "plume" if above freezing, with the new inference of a heat source, correct? Of course, it would freeze immediately upon entering space.
This does make Dawn's mission more interesting...

In every other instance where there is a plume the claimed process is "gravitational kneading", such process doesn't seem credible in this instance.

Once again plasma discharge could be the culprit without need of instigating magical forces.


Except that then you need the same power source to reate the plasma, energy is conserved in reality even if not in your fantasy world.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (2) Jan 23, 2014
Dawn will map the geology and chemistry of the surface in high resolution, revealing the processes that drive the outgassing activity.


I forget. how soon will Dawn actually turn on again and start taking photos and other science measurements for Ceres?

Will there be any other missions for Dawn, or will it be put in permanent orbit around Ceres? Is it going to run out of fuel and propellant any time soon?
Hey I know - why don't you try the internet instead of asking people here to look shit up for you? How about it? Pretty outrageous Lrrkrr.
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (1) Jan 23, 2014
Except that then you need the same power source to reate the plasma, energy is conserved in reality even if not in your fantasy world.


You usually make more sense than this.
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (1) Jan 23, 2014
Except that then you need the same power source to reate the plasma, energy is conserved in reality even if not in your fantasy world.


You usually make more sense than this.

The "Power Source" is mass. Admittedly, not much, relative to a full planet, in the case of Ceres. More mass means higher aggregate number of bound electrons - stronger negative charge (or lower positive charge). Protons without attached electrons (meaning slightly higher charged) are drawn to that. Charge looks for equivalence...
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
5 / 5 (1) Jan 25, 2014
Observing the trolling of non-arguable science here, the question becomes how stupid and/or desperate must you be to suggest that a thermally driven process hints at "electric universe" crackpottery? The answer seems to be: "very".
Whydening Gyre
not rated yet Jan 25, 2014
Observing the trolling of non-arguable science here, the question becomes how stupid and/or desperate must you be to suggest that a thermally driven process hints at "electric universe" crackpottery? The answer seems to be: "very".

Actually, I'm more inclined to believe that electrical discharge and thermal emissions are a result of, rather than a driver of, quantum charge differential.
dav_daddy
5 / 5 (1) Jan 26, 2014
Observing the trolling of non-arguable science here, the question becomes how stupid and/or desperate must you be to suggest that a thermally driven process hints at "electric universe" crackpottery? The answer seems to be: "very".


Couldn't agree more. I know it's terrible form but this thread has gone to hell already.

@Torbjorn Larsson
When you get a sec could pop over to this thread on UT and give a better description/explanation of entropy than I managed?

http://www.univer...17194754

Specifically the question using marbles near a gravity well as an example. Reading my best answer I managed to confuse myself so someone with more clarity than my vocabulary allows for would be a great help.
ACW
5 / 5 (2) Jan 26, 2014
http://www.nasa.g...u8vvnat8

Just in case others wanted to know about Dawn's primary mission.
Captain Stumpy
not rated yet Jan 26, 2014
@cantdrive
Once again plasma discharge could be the culprit without need of instigating magical forces.

do you have any references that support your claim that do not link back to your crackpot EU sites?

If you are so sure of this, then you should be able to use modern plasma physics to show where this is true

I will await your references and links
and by all means, you can show your math as well
that would help
Whydening Gyre
not rated yet Jan 26, 2014
Once again plasma discharge could be the culprit without need of instigating magical forces.

The question there, cd, would be, how much plasma is in the area and what would provide sufficient magnetic field to create the discharge in plasma? These are just a couple of components of the equation. The density of Ceres, itself, would need to be substantial.
cantdrive85
2.5 / 5 (2) Jan 27, 2014
do you have any references

As it mentions in this paper, solar wind radiolysis has been discussed for at least four decades. Why am I not surprised by you extensive IGNORANCE.
www.pnas.org/cgi/...20115111

how much plasma in area... The density of Ceres, itself, would need to be substantial.

How much plasma? Well, all of the interplanetary medium is plasma, the current density of the plasma will likely be variable and could only be measured locally. What would the density of Ceres matter? What will matter is the charge difference between Ceres and the local plasma environment.

Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (1) Jan 27, 2014
How much plasma? Well, all of the interplanetary medium is plasma, the current density of the plasma will likely be variable and could only be measured locally. What would the density of Ceres matter? What will matter is the charge difference between Ceres and the local plasma environment.

I'm not saying it CAN'T be a culprit. Just maybe not in this case.
To create a charge difference large enough for discharge you need enough mass and energy to provide for discharge. In the coldness of space, heating frozen water enough to evaporate requires heat in close proximity. with no real atmosphere, plasma discharge would have to be VERY close to the surface, requiring a fair amount of plasma to be there in the first place. Next, you need a fair amount of magnetism and mass for the free electrons to discharge to. You might have plasma discharge, but I don't think enough to evaporate Ceres' ice.
Lightning will, but the Aurora Borealis doesn't evaporate anything that I've heard of.
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (1) Jan 27, 2014
@cantdrive
As it mentions in this paper, solar wind radiolysis has been discussed for at least four decades. Why am I not surprised by you extensive IGNORANCE.
www.pnas.org/cgi/...20115111

Wow, a REAL reference!

This is great, and all, and supports water in space
and how water might be added to Ceres,
but this doesnt explain WHY water shoots UP from Ceres
which was the original question...

I requested references based upon your comment
In every other instance where there is a plume the claimed process is "gravitational kneading", such process doesn't seem credible in this instance
Once again plasma discharge could be the culprit without need of instigating magical forces

therefore your link is irrelevant and does NOT answer the question

it was good to see a real reference though, keep it up

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