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Solid ice volcanoes once covered dwarf planet Ceres eons ago

This view of the dwarf planet Ceres shows the mountain and probably “ice volcano” Ahuna Mons on the right edge, and the bright spots of the Occator crater in the bottom left. New research suggests that several ice volcanoes once dotted Ceres’ surface. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)

A new study shows that dozens of ice volcanoes used to litter the surface of the dwarf planet Ceres, billions of years ago.

Unlike volcanoes on Earth, ice volcanoes (also known as cryovolcanoes) shoot water-ice and other frozen pieces.

“Ceres is the only plausible cryovolcanic world to be orbited by a spacecraft so far, making it the best opportunity to see the importance of cryovolcanism on bodies in the outer solar system and to compare the effects on silicate volcanism on terrestrial planets,” the study reads.

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The study’s lead author, Michael Sori, a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona in Tucson, told Space.com the ice volcanoes on Ceres, “the best chance we have done until now to learn more about the similarities and differences between cryovolcanism and regular volcanic activity.”

The study is published in the journal Nature Astronomy.

Ice volcanoes are rare in the solar system, but have been spotted on a few planets, such as Saturn’s moons Enceladus and Titan, as well as Pluto. Not much is known about them, making them of the intense interest of the researchers.

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“Cryovolcanoes are some of the most intriguing features in the solar system,” Rosaly Lopes, a radar of the Cassini team research scientist, said in 2008 when talking about cryovolcanoes on Saturn’s moon, Titan. “To put them in perspective-if mount Vesuvius was a cryovolcano, its lava would have frozen the residents of Pompeii.”

Ceres’ ice and volcanoes, but are largely gone dormant and eroded over the past billion years or so, as will be discovered in 2015, the 2.5-meter-high Ahuna Mons, the most prominent of the ice volcanoes on the dwarf planet.

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Ceres is the largest member of the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The diameter is approximately 585 km, within the orbit of Neptune and is the 33rd largest known body in the solar system have been discovered in 1801 by Giuseppe Piazzi.

Although the ice volcanoes helped Ceres to what it is now, it is not so “dominant process” if volcanoes on the Earth, the Moon, Mars or Venus, Sori told Space.com. “The dark spots you see on the moon in the night are large volcanic plains, and we don’t see anything analogous like that on Ceres.”

Follow Chris Ciaccia on Twitter @Chris_Ciaccia

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