NASA showcases 'Cold Traps' On Ceres With Information Collection by Dawn Mission

NASA showcases 'Cold Traps' On Ceres With Information Collection by Dawn Mission

Ceres has some permanently shadowed areas, which don’t receive direct sunlight. These regions are cold enough to trap water ice for a long time, announced Dawn mission controllers at NASA. The discovery hints that these regions on the dwarf planet may have ice deposits today, they added.

The asteroid belt object, Ceres, has right conditions to accumulate water ice, said Dawn guest investigatorNorbert Schorghofer from theUniversity of Hawaii. The dwarf planet’s mass is capable of holding molecules of water. Permanently shadowed areas of Ceres are colder than shadowed regions of the moon,Schorghofer added in a statement.

Although these permanently shadowed regions are not able to receive sunlight directly, they still receive indirect sunlight. Such areas can trap water ice if they have temperature equal to or belowminus 151 degrees Celsius. Previously, astronomers had a hunch that Ceres has water ice traps, but until now, they didn’t have evidence to prove that.

In the new discovery,Schorghofer and other researchers in the mission conducted a study on northern hemisphere of Ceres. They used pictures clicked by Dawn probe and other data on the dwarf planet. After that, the researchers developed a computer model to know which Ceres regions could be away from direct sunlight.

The Dawn team found that there’re permanently shadowed regions on Ceres that occupy 695 square miles. “These regions act as cold traps down to relatively low latitudes. On the moon and Mercury, only the permanently shadowed regions very close to the poles get cold enough for ice to be stable on the surface”, said Dawn guest investigatorErwanMazarico.

According to a report in UPI by Brooks Hays, "NASA's Dawn probe has successfully mapped the craters on Ceres that can accumulate ice. Researchers suspect conditions in many of the dwarf planet's craters have been cold enough to trap ice for a billion years. If that's the case, ice deposits are likely in several of the newly mapped craters."

"Ceres has just enough mass to hold on to water molecules, and the permanently shadowed regions we identified are extremely cold -- colder than most that exist on the moon or Mercury," Norbert Schorghofer, a researcher at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and a guest investigator on the Dawn mission, explained in a news release.

The largest cold trap identified by Dawn is located at the bottom of a crater 10 miles wide some 40 miles south of Ceres' north pole. In total, Ceres features 695 square-miles of permanently shadowed terrain, less than one percent of the surface area of the dwarf planet's northern hemisphere.

"Scientists with NASA’s Dawn mission have identified permanently shadowed regions on the dwarf planet Ceres. Most of these areas likely have been cold enough to trap water ice for a billion years, suggesting that ice deposits could exist there now," according to a news report published by Astronomy.

“The conditions on Ceres are right for accumulating deposits of water ice,” said Norbert Schorghofer, a Dawn guest investigator at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. “Ceres has just enough mass to hold on to water molecules, and the permanently shadowed regions we identified are extremely cold — colder than most that exist on the Moon or Mercury.”

In this study, Schorghofer and colleagues studied Ceres’ northern hemisphere, which was better illuminated than the south. Images from Dawn’s cameras were combined to yield the dwarf planet’s shape, showing craters, plains and other features in 3-D. Using this input, a sophisticated computer model developed at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, was used to determine which areas receive direct sunlight, how much solar radiation reaches the surface, and how the conditions change over the course of a year on Ceres.

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