AUG 07, 2022 10:00 AM PDT

Geologic activity of dwarf planet Ceres divulged through computers models

Dwarf planet Ceres. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)

In a recent study published in American Geophysical Union Advances, computer models can elucidate how the geologic activity on dwarf planet Ceres could be explained by decaying radiogenic elements such as uranium, thorium, and potassium. This finding is intriguing since geologic activity on other icy moons known to be currently geologically active, or sometime in their past, have been driven by tidal heating, such as Jupiter’s moons, Io and Europa.

Using computer models, the collaborative team encompassing researchers from Virginia Tech, UCLA, NASA JPL, the United States Geological Survey, and the Planetary Science Institute discovered the decay of radioactive elements within the interior of Ceres could keep it dynamic and active. While Ceres never got big enough to become a full-fledged planet, data from NASA’s Dawn mission in 2015 and computer models previously applied to larger planets were used to study the interior of Ceres. The findings revealed that while Ceres started out cold, the interior was able to generate heat through the decay of radioactive isotopes, which was enough to destabilize the interior, ultimately making it much more active and resulting in the unique geologic features on its surface.

"What I would see in the model is, all of a sudden, one part of the interior would start heating up and would be moving upward and then the other part would be moving downward," said Dr. Scott King, a professor in the Department of Geosciences at Virginia Tech, and lead author on the study. "It turned out that you could show in the model that where one hemisphere had this instability that was rising up, it would cause extension at the surface, and it was consistent with these patterns of fractures.”

While traditional planetary evolution models show a planet starting hot then cooling off, Ceres bucked this trend.

"What we've shown in this paper is that radiogenic heating all on its own is enough to create interesting geology," King explained.

King sees comparisons between Ceres and some moons of Uranus, which NASA and the National Science Foundation have designated as high priority for robotic missions, since they are about the same size as Ceres, and he is excited at the thought of applying this most recent model to them.

Sources: American Geophysical Union Advances

As always, keep doing science & keep looking up!

About the Author
MS in Geological Sciences
Laurence Tognetti is a six-year USAF Veteran who earned both a BSc and MSc from the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University. Laurence is extremely passionate about outer space and science communication, and is the author of “Outer Solar System Moons: Your Personal 3D Journey”.
You May Also Like
AUG 16, 2022
Chemistry & Physics
Balloons Sent from the Earth Could Detect Quakes on Venus
AUG 16, 2022
Balloons Sent from the Earth Could Detect Quakes on Venus
During the Cold War, the US military launched a secret project to spy on the Soviet Union by sending microphones attache ...
SEP 09, 2022
Space & Astronomy
Remembering Frank Drake, Pioneer in the Search for Alien Life
SEP 09, 2022
Remembering Frank Drake, Pioneer in the Search for Alien Life
Frank Drake, the legendary astronomer who pioneered the modern search for intelligent life in the Universe, passed away ...
OCT 16, 2022
Space & Astronomy
Astrobiology and Broccoli Gas
OCT 16, 2022
Astrobiology and Broccoli Gas
In a recent study published in The Astrophysical Journal, a team of researchers led by the University of California at R ...
OCT 31, 2022
Space & Astronomy
Long-Term International Space Station Experiment Highlights Risks for Future Human Spaceflight
OCT 31, 2022
Long-Term International Space Station Experiment Highlights Risks for Future Human Spaceflight
In a recent study published in Heliyon, an international team of researchers led by Osaka City University in Japan exami ...
DEC 07, 2022
Space & Astronomy
What is a pulsar?
DEC 07, 2022
What is a pulsar?
We’ve all seen lighthouses on Earth, a spinning light atop a tower that is meant to keep ships from coming to clos ...
DEC 06, 2022
Space & Astronomy
"Stellar Feedback" Limits Star Formation
DEC 06, 2022
"Stellar Feedback" Limits Star Formation
In a new study published in The Astrophysical Journal, astronomers have detailed how groups of stars can regulate their ...
Loading Comments...