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Scientists Detect Water Vapor on Dwarf Planet in the Asteroid Belt

Artist depiction of dwarf planet Ceres

Have you ever dreamed of a far, far away home for the future generations of your family? Scientists have discovered a potential real estate option for you! Yesterday NASA announced that scientists using the Herschel space observatory have made the first “definitive detection” of water vapor on the largest object in the asteroid belt, dwarf planet Ceres.

“This is the first time water vapor has been unequivocally detected on Ceres or any other object in the asteroid belt and provides proof that Ceres has an icy surface and an atmosphere,” said Michael Küppers of the European Space Agency in Spain.

This is the right time for scientists to find water vapor in the asteroid belt; NASA’s Dawn mission has been spending over a year orbiting nearby asteroid Vesta. Dawn is now scheduled to arrive at Ceres in spring 2015, when it will take a closer look at the surface of Ceres.

Though waiting over a year to explore Ceres may sound like a long time to us, scientists are unfazed. “We’ve got a spacecraft on the way to Ceres, so we don’t have to wait long before getting more context on this intriguing result, right from the source itself,” said Carol Raymond, the deputy principal investigator for Dawn at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “Dawn will map the geology and chemistry of the surface in high resolution, revealing the processes that drive the outgassing activity.”

Scientists believe Ceres contains rock in its interior and that it’s covered in a thick mantle of ice that, if melted, would amount to more fresh water than is present on Earth. Water vapor is believed to appear when portions of this icy surface warm slightly.

Located between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, Ceres is roughly 590 miles in diameter, which gives it its dwarf planet classification. A dwarf planet is defined as a solar system body that’s bigger than an asteroid but smaller than a planet.

Image by NASA

   
 
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