JAKARTA, NETRALNEWS.COM - A number of researchers studying images from the United States (US) National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) spacecraft have discovered an underground ocean of salt water on the planet Ceres.
The findings, published in Nature Astronomy, Nature Geoscience, and Nature Communications, are considered to be early clues about the possibility of life on Ceres.
Therefore, the researchers hope their findings will attract more interest from the scientific community in the dwarf planet.
Researchers found the ocean at Ceres from a number of data collected by NASA's Dawn spacecraft. The spacecraft managed to fly close to 35 kilometers (22 miles) from the surface of Ceres in 2018.
The data collected by Dawn provides new knowledge about Ceres, including evidence that shows geological activity on the dwarf planet is still active, considering that the iceberg/cryovolcano at Ceres is still emitting volcanic material in the form of ice.
The findings also confirm the existence of underground sources of salt water, which are formed from the remains of the ocean slowly freezing beneath the surface layer of the land.
"This evidence enhances Ceres' status as a 'world of the oceans', and it is important to know that this category does not require the oceans to fill the entire planet," said planetary expert and lead researcher Carol Raymond.
"In the case of Ceres, we know that the water source is still in a certain area. We cannot confirm that the size of the water source reaches one planet/global size. However, the most important finding is that there is a large water source," Raymond said.
Ceres is a dwarf planet with a diameter of about 950 kilometers. The dwarf planet is the largest outer space object between Mars and Jupiter.
The scientists focused their research on the Occator Crater, a crater that is 92 kilometers (57 miles) in diameter. The crater was formed about 22 million years ago in the northern region of Ceres. The Occator has two bright areas, a layer of salt crust formed by seepage of water on the surface of the ground that evaporates.
Researchers concluded the liquid came from an underground saltwater source found at a depth of about 40 km (25 miles) with a diameter of hundreds of kilometers. The underground water source was found because there was a crack that allowed the salt water to escape to the surface.
Apart from Earth, traces of the oceans under the ground are also known to have existed on Europa-Jupiter's moon, Enceladus-the moon on the Planet Saturn, and Triton-the moon on the Planet Neptune, as well as the dwarf planet Pluto.
Water is considered as an important material which indicates the existence of life. Scientists are trying to study whether Ceres was once inhabited by microbes.
"There is a lot of interest (in Ceres, ed) at this stage," said Julie Castillo, a planetary expert from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Especially in exploring the possibility of life in underground water sources, considering it is cold and contains a lot of salt," said Carol, as quoted by Antara.