An Ocean On Ceres

Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and is a "remnant from the early days of the solar system. NASA launched the Dawn spacecraft to the belt in 2007 to study Ceres up close.

After surveying the dwarf planet, scientists have reasoned that it was once home to a global ocean that had frozen over.

On Monday, a suite of seven studies in the journal Nature scrutinize extended mission data from Dawn, peering at Ceres' dull, lifeless shell and finding definitive evidence that it is an ocean world.

"The new results confirm the presence of liquid inside Ceres," says Julie Castillo-Rogez, a planetary scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion laboratory (JPL) and co-author across six new studies. The discovery of liquids hints that Ceres, the closest dwarf planet to Earth, may have been a habitable world and raises the possibility that these types of worlds may harbor life.

Golden Age science fiction stories often do not recognize all of the realities of life in space that we know so well in the 21st century - in particular, the unlikelihood of small bodies like asteroids with an atmosphere. Now that there is hard evidence for oceans on Ceres, we might need to take a look at some of those lost classics.

One such is the wonderful 1931 novel Brigands of the Moon by Golden Age great Ray Cummings.

Within the hour I had us dropping into the asteroid's atmosphere. The ship heated steadily. The pressure went up. It kept me busy with the instruments and the calculations. But my signals were always promptly answered from below. The brigand crew did its part efficiently.

At a hundred and fifty thousand feet I shifted the gravity plates to the landing combinations, and started the electronic engines...

The electronic streams flowed out like a rocket tail behind us. The Planetara caught their impetus. In the rarefied air, our bow lifted slightly, like a ship riding a gentle ground swell. At a hundred thousand feet we sailed gently forward, hull down to the asteroid's surface, cruising to seek a landing space.

A little sea was now beneath us. A shadowed sea, deep purple in the night down there. Occasional verdurous islands showed, with the lines of white surf marking them. Beyond the sea, a curving coastline was visible. Rocky headlines, behind which mountain foothills rose in serrated, verdurous ranks. The sunlight edged the distant mountains; and presently this rapidly turning little world brought the sunlight forward.

It was day beneath us. We slid gently downward. Thirty thousand feet now, above a sparkling blue ocean. The coastline was just ahead; green with a lush, tropical vegetation. Giant trees, huge-leaved. Long, dangling vines; air[102] plants, with giant pods and vivid orchidlike blossoms.

I sat at the turret window, staring through my glasses. A fair, little world, yet obviously uninhabited. I could fancy that all this was newly sprung vegetation. This asteroid had whirled in from the cold of the interplanetary space, far outside our solar system. A few years ago—as time might be measured astronomically, it was no more than yesterday—this fair landscape was congealed white and bleak with a sweep of glacial ice. But the seeds of life miraculously were here. The miracle of life! Under the warming, germinating sunlight, the verdure had sprung.


(Brigands of the Moon, 1931)

Via cnet.

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