The dwarf planet Ceres has long been the subject of scientific curiosity. Being the only dwarf planet as well as the biggest asteroid in our solar neighborhood, Ceres has long been theorized to contain large amounts of ice. However, this has never been proven to be a fact until now.
A recent report now indicates that the dwarf planet may be venting water vapor into space. The discovery was made after researchers analyzed data gathered by the European Space Agency's Herschel Space Observatory.
"Recent observations indicate the presence of water ice on the surface of some asteroids with sublimation a potential reason for the dust activity observed on others," says the report. Hydrated minerals have been found on the surface of the largest object in the asteroid belt, the dwarf planet (1) Ceres, which is thought to be differentiated into a silicate core with an icy mantle.
The amount of water vapor that the dwarf planet is spewing is not much. However, Herschel has a number of features that makes it very adept at detecting the presence of water in space.
While researchers involved in the project are currently uncertain why Ceres may be venting water vapor into space, some scientists believe that ice located on or near the surface of the dwarf planet is heated up by the sun's rays. Due to the low pressures in space, the ice is converted directly into vapor bypassing the water's liquid state. Other researchers say that the incident may be caused by the presence of some type of energy within the dwarf planet. As the energy builds up, it finds a way out and water vapor is vented in a manner similar to terrestrial geysers.
"The water evaporation could be due to comet-like sublimation or to cryo-volcanism, in which volcanoes erupt volatiles such as water instead of molten rocks," say the scientists working on the project.
Due to the possibility of Ceres containing water in its liquid form, the possibility of life on Ceres is also being explored. While unlikely, liquid water is one of the primary requirements for the development of life. Moreover, scientists have already discoverd the existence of certain extremophiles, organisms that can survive and even thrive in extreme conditions, that could possibly survive in the frigid water-ice environment of Ceres.