Ceres, a wet planet: The view after Dawn

Thomas B. McCorda, Jean-Philippe Combe, Julie C. Castillo-Rogez, Harry Y. McSween, Thomas H. Prettyman

Available online 3 February 2021, 125745


“Ceres, a nearly 1000-km diameter body located in the Solar System’s main asteroid belt, has been classified under many categories: planet, comet, asteroid, minor planet and, presently, dwarf planet. No matter what the designation, Ceres has experienced major planetary processes. Its evolution has been controlled by water, making it a most unusual, interesting and accessible inner Solar System object that can inform the evolution of outer Solar System moons and other dwarf planets. Early telescopic observations suggested a hydroxylated mineralogy similar to carbonaceous chondrite meteorites and a size and mass indicating a bulk density that implied a water content of 17-27 wt%. Thermodynamic modeling of Ceres’ evolution indicated that thermal aqueous evolution likely occurred. The Dawn Mission produced a huge increase in our understanding of Ceres, confirming but vastly extending the early knowledge. Dawn, carrying multispectral cameras, a visible-infrared imaging spectrometer and a nuclear spectrometer, orbited Ceres between 2015-2018 (after orbiting Vesta) at a number of different altitudes, ultimately reaching 35 km from the surface at periapsis. Observations of almost the entire surface and gravity field mapping revealed multiple geological and internal features attributed to the effects of water. The surface displays cryovolcanic-like and flow structures, exposed phyllosilicates, carbonates, evaporites and water ice. The subsurface shows partial differentiation, decreasing viscosity with depth, and lateral density heterogeneity. Ceres appears to be geologically active today and possesses liquid water/brine pockets or even an extended liquid layer in the interior, confirming an “Ocean World” designation in today’s vernacular.”