Impact-driven mobilization of deep crustal brines on dwarf planet Ceres

C. A. Raymond, A. I. Ermakov, J. C. Castillo-Rogez, S. Marchi, B. C. Johnson, M. A. Hesse, J. E. C. Scully, D. L. Buczkowski, H. G. Sizemore, P. M. Schenk, A. Nathues, R. S. Park, T. H. Prettyman, L. C. Quick, J. T. Keane, M. D. Rayman & C. T. Russell

Nature Astronomy, Volume 4, pages 741–747 (2020)


“Ceres, the only dwarf planet in the inner Solar System, appears to be a relict ocean world. Data collected by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft provided evidence that global aqueous alteration within Ceres resulted in a chemically evolved body that remains volatile-rich. Recent emplacement of bright deposits sourced from brines attests to Ceres being a persistently geologically active world but the surprising longevity of this activity at the 92-km Occator crater has yet to be explained. Here, we use new high-resolution Dawn gravity data to study the subsurface architecture of the region surrounding Occator crater, which hosts extensive young bright carbonate deposits (faculae). Gravity data and thermal modelling imply an extensive deep brine reservoir beneath Occator, which we argue could have been mobilized by the heating and deep fracturing associated with the Occator impact, leading to long-lived extrusion of brines and formation of the faculae. Moreover, we find that pre-existing tectonic cracks may provide pathways for deep brines to migrate within the crust, extending the regions affected by impacts and creating compositional heterogeneity. The long-lived hydrological system resulting from the impact might also occur for large impacts in icy moons, with implications for creation of transient habitable niches over time.”