Even More Watery Worlds in our Solar System

Hubble ACS photo of Ceres courtesy NASA, ESA, and J. Parker (Southwest Research Institute) STScl-PRC05-27c
 
 
Do we have another watery world in our solar system? New data from the Herschel Space Telescope seems to indicate that we might!

Water vapor has been detected around Ceres, originating from two spots on its surface. Could this be due to water ice sublimating when exposed to the Sun, similar to how a comet forms its puffy coma and tail? Could this water vapor be ejected from a liquid ocean underneath Ceres' crust in due to cryovolcanism, similar to Saturn's icy world Enceladus? It's unclear at this time; however, we are in luck because the Dawn mission is already on its way to visit Ceres in 2015!


Dawn mission poster
Dawn Space Probe, between Vesta and Ceres (NASA/JPL-Caltec)

The Dawn space probe has revolutionized our understanding of Vesta, the second-largest asteroid in the Asteroid belt. It promised to do the same for Ceres, too. By going into orbit and studying the largest asteroid in our solar system up close it is hoped that the mysteries of its composition will be solved. Dawn should be able to help settle the question of the nature of these icy plumes as well by spotting them up close and active if all goes well. 

Dawn is not the only spacecraft visiting an icy tiny world in 2015; the New Horizons mission will also fly past Pluto and its system of moons in 2015 as well! Could Pluto also be found to have an ocean of water under its surface as well? There are some hints that the tidal forces between Pluto and Charon, its large moon, may generate enough heat for liquid water to exisit under its surface. With luck New Horizons will be able to help solve that mystery as it zips past the beloved and chilly dwarf planet! 

2015 promises to be a banner year for fans of both watery worlds and dwarf planets! Depending on the result we may have to update our banner activity, "Watery Worlds of the Solar System?" The more watery worlds, the merrier!

You can track Ceres and Vesta in 2014 with a small telescope or binoculars with this handy guide from Sky and telescope! You'll need sharp eyes or a camera to track their movement, but it is worth it once you finally spot them!

You can also download the
Watery Worlds of our Solar System Banner !(PDF, 3.83 MB)

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