Tag Archives: Ceres

Good News and Bad News from Science

Plenty of science news lately. Interesting stuff going on right now, but not all of it is good.

New Horizons is approaching Pluto, and we now have colour movies! This is good news.

The sixth mass extinction has begun, scientists say. This is bad news.

The bright spots on Ceres continue to puzzle scientists, and a surprising mountain has been found there, too. This is good news.

One third of the world’s groundwater is in trouble. This is bad news.

Elon Musk’s Hyperloop will have a test track built by SpaceX, and there’s even going to be a design competition. This is good news.

Have any good or bad science news to share?

USS Enterprise Found on Ceres!

Conspiracy theorists, this is for you. The USS Enterprise has been found on Ceres! Emily Lakdawalla of the Planetary Society has the proof! Take a look!

It’s so clear! Those bright spots on Ceres must be Starfleet bases or maybe exposed dilithium! Gene Roddenberry knew the truth!


Possibility of Life in the Solar System

Earlier today, I posted a poll about where life could exist in the solar system.  It seems Mars is quite popular. You can still vote in the poll with your answer.  But now, I’ll examine each of the worlds and you can see what I think.  Keep in mind that I am an expert.  Okay, not an expert, but I do have a degree in astronomy.  So it is my area of expertise.


Mars_23_aug_2003_hubbleMars is the best-known planet in the solar system other than Earth.  We’ve had many probes go there, rovers explore the surface, and it’s one of the easiest to observe from Earth.  It’s a cold, dry world with most of its water locked up in the polar ice caps or underground.  There has been evidence of sudden outflows of liquid water, though it couldn’t last long on the surface, but maybe there are aquifers.  There are underground glaciers.  There’s a chance there is life in the aquifers.  Maybe there isn’t life now, but there may have been early in Mars’ history, as it’s recently been estimated that an ocean covered 20% of the surface.  We know it had a wet history.  Chances of life now? Quite low.  But much better in the past.


PIA18920-Ceres-DwarfPlanet-20150219We’ve only been studying Ceres up close for a very short time.  We don’t know much about it, but there’s a guess about the internal structure.  There’s likely a rocky core with a thick ice mantle.  That’s covered by a thin dusty crust.  Liquid water could exist if it’s warm enough inside.  Water vapour was seen in January 2014, so it’s possible there is some sort of icy volcanism or geysers.  What we’ve seen of the surface so far shows that it’s rather dark, but a couple bright spots could be ice.  Chances of life now? Probably quite low.


PIA19048_realistic_color_Europa_mosaicThis icy moon of Jupiter has been of particular interest for a very long time.  It’s almost completely smooth, covered with water ice, and it shows evidence of an active surface, similar to the Arctic polar ice cap of Earth.  Thanks to tidal forces exerted on it by Jupiter and other moons of Jupiter, it’s kept warm.  That means there’s most likely a vast liquid water ocean under its icy crust.  It’s also very likely that there’s underwater volcanism, similar to what we find on the floor of the Earth’s oceans.  Those hydrothermal vents are teeming with life, and may give Europa a wonderful chance of supporting simple life, or even some more complex marine life.  Because of the thick icy crust, it’s difficult to see what’s beneath.  NASA’s recently had a proposal to explore Europa approved, so we could have this chance soon.  Chances of life now? Not unlikely, but there’s a decent chance.


converted PNM fileThe second largest moon in the solar system also happens to be the only moon in the solar system to support a significant atmosphere.  In fact, it’s more dense than the Earth’s.  The surface of Titan is water ice with liquid hydrocarbon lakes and rivers.  It rains and snows ethane and methane.  While Earth has a water cycle, Titan has a hydrocarbon cycle.  Titan even has cryovolcanoes that may be active.  The composition of the atmosphere is said to be similar to early Earth’s, which makes a lot of people excited.  However, Titan is extremely cold.  There’s also likely a subsurface liquid water ocean, so it could be similar to Europa in that aspect.  But on the surface, it’s unlikely we’ll find any life similar to what’s on Earth.  Chances of life now?  Probably low, but if there is any, it’s probably unrecognisable.


Enceladusstripes_cassiniThis small moon of Saturn has made planetary scientists very excited.  It may be small, but it’s active.  It has liquid water under the surface.  We know this almost for certain, because it has hundreds of cryovolcanoes in the south polar region spraying out water vapour and other substances such as salt (NaCl).  It could have a large salty underground ocean.  Organic compounds have also been detected, which makes it an even better candidate for life.  Chances of life now? There’s a decent chance, quite similar to Europa.

So, which places have the best chances of life now?  I think Europa is number one, though Enceladus may have a good chance, as well as Titan.  All three likely have subsurface liquid water oceans.  In the past, Mars could very well have had life.  We just need to find the fossils if it did.  However, in all cases, it’s quite possible that life is single cellular, though Europa’s got a remote chance of multicellular life.

So, with this said, what do you think now?  Where do you think life could be hiding?  Or do you disagree with me?  Let me know in the comments.

Where Could Life Exist in the Solar System?

It’s an exciting year in space exploration as Ceres is now being investigated and Pluto will be seen for the first time in July. These may also be the last large objects to be explored in the solar system for a very long time.  But not to worry, the only other large objects are quite far away, though I’d love to see Eris and Haumea especially.

However, part of what makes Ceres exciting is the prospect of life, or the small possibility of it being habitable by very marginalised life.  There are several candidates in the solar system that have the potential to support life:

  • Mars is quite promising, but mainly in the past.
  • Ceres needs to be examined more first.
  • Europa has liquid water oceans.
  • Titan is a very different world, but has conditions similar to early Earth.
  • Enceladus also likely has liquid water under the surface.

These five are of particular interest at the moment.  Which world do you think is most likely to support life?  Vote in the poll below and leave a comment explaining your choice.  I’ll make a post later on examining each of these worlds and making my own conclusion.

Welcome to Ceres

Welcome to a new world.  The largest asteroid is now being visited.  It’s also the smallest dwarf planet.  NASA’s Dawn is currently nearing Ceres and will be entering into orbit around it over the next day.  We’ve been treated to some great images of it over the last month.

A couple months ago, we knew there was a bright spot on Ceres.  A month ago, we could see it was still there.  A couple weeks ago, we saw that it was very bright and small.  More recently, we found out it was actually two bright spots.  But we don’t see it clearly enough yet.


Just look at that.  What the hell is that?  It’s so much brighter than the surrounding surface, and even as it passes over the terminator from day into night, it’s still bright for a short time.  It’s in the centre of a large impact crater, so it’s possible it’s the central peak of the crater.  However, there are two of them.  Could they be fresh impact craters that revealed ice below the dark regolith?  Or are they ice volcanoes?

As Dawn explores Ceres over the next year, we should learn a lot about it.

What do you think that bright spot is?

The Great White Spot of Ceres

Dawn is approaching Ceres.  In just over a month, on March 6th, Dawn will enter orbit around the largest asteroid and one of the so-called dwarf planets.  It’s 952 km in diameter, which is pretty big for an object that isn’t quite a planet.  It’s relatively spherical, as well.

There are many mysteries that will be addressed as Dawn orbits Ceres, including whether it may have a possible liquid water ocean lurking beneath its icy crust, and if it’s venting water vapour into a possible tenuous atmosphere.  But the big thing that many people are wondering is what’s that bright spot?

PIA19168-Ceres-DawnSpacecraft-20150113-AnimationThe above animation was captured by Dawn on January 13th, 2015, and this is the best view we had of Ceres up to that date.  There are evidently impact craters.  The bright spot is easily visible in the images.  But what is it?  Is it fresh ice from a liquid ocean below?  Or is it a recent impact crater?  Either one is possible, but my guess is that it’s a fresh crater.  What’s wonderful is that we’ll know very soon.

jan25-dawn-ceresAnd looking at the most recent image from January 25th, we get an even clearer view.

What do you think that bright spot is?