8 September 2016
Scientists at NASA have discovered a volcano that will be spewing out ice instead of hot magna when it erupts on Ceres, a dwarf planet in the Solar System’s asteroid belt.
Given that Ceres is approaching perihelion, the point in the orbit of a planet, minor planet, or comet, where it is nearest to the sun, scientists believe the added heat and light from this event will trigger a burst of volcanic activity.
Scientists at NASA have named this 13,000-foot volcano Ahuna Mons. NASA has been studying Ahuna Mons since its Ceres-orbiting Dawn spacecraft first laid its eyes on the dwarf planet.
Initially, Ahuna Mons was identified as a regular mountain, as it takes the shape of mountains found on earth and other planets, but further research showed no presence of any tectonic origin while possibilities of cryovolcanism started to arise.
Cryovolcanism is a form of low-temperature volcanic activity, where volcanoes spew out cold, molten ice rather than hot, liquid rock.
This process can be largely observed in the farthest parts of the solar system, as the extremely low temperatures there prevent classic Earth-like volcanoes to ever arise.
David Williams, an associate research professor at Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration said that “Ahuna is truly unique, being the only mountain of its kind on Ceres.
“It shows nothing to indicate a tectonic formation, so that led us to consider cryovolcanism as a method for its origin,” he said.
Researchers suggest that repeated eruptions of this freezing slurry of salt have built the Ahuna Mons we know of today.
With the dwarf planet slowly approaching its closest pass of the sun, which is predicted will come at around April 2018, scientists can’t wait to observe how the planet will react with the sudden increase in light and heat—asking the question: Will the heat trigger a burst of volcanic activity?
“We hope that by observing Ceres as it approaches perihelion, we might see some active venting. This would be an ideal way to end the mission,” said Williams.