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NASA’s Dawn Won’t Be Leaving Ceres Anytime Soon

NASA’s Dawn isn’t going to leave Ceres anytime soon for its next object in the main belt asteroid Adeona, the US space agency has revealed in a statement.

The decision to extent Dawn’s stay at Ceres was taken by NASA in light of the importance of the mission and its ability to deliver more scientific insights into the asteroid belt object. Over the course of its mission, Dawn has provided a treasure trove of data based on which scientists have been able to derive answers to quite a few puzzles. With Ceres approaching its perihelion – the part of its orbit with the shortest distance to the Sun – NASA believes that the mission has potential to deliver more data that will enable greater scientific discoveries than a flyby of Adeona would provide.

Ceres is a mysterious object with many unanswered questions. One among them has been the origin of the bright spots. Dawn has been collecting data that has been helping scientists to dig deeper into these bright spots and according to a recent study hydrothermal activity could be the reason behind the spots. The brightest area on Ceres, located in the mysterious Occator Crater, has the highest concentration of carbonate minerals ever seen outside Earth.

Scientists have found that the dominant mineral of this bright area is sodium carbonate, a kind of salt found on Earth in hydrothermal environments. This material appears to have come from inside Ceres, because an impacting asteroid could not have delivered it. The upwelling of this material suggests that temperatures inside Ceres are warmer than previously believed. Impact of an asteroid on Ceres may have helped bring this material up from below, but researchers think an internal process played a role as well.

More intriguingly, the results suggest that liquid water may have existed beneath the surface of Ceres in recent geological time. The salts could be remnants of an ocean, or localized bodies of water, that reached the surface and then froze millions of years ago.

David Lintott is a freelance journalist, covering culture, sport and society. He hails from the decaying seaside town of Eastbourne, which he considers the source of his world-weariness.

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