New Delhi: NASA's Dawn mission has been baffling scientists with its mystifying findings since its arrival at Ceres in march 2015.
Earlier, images from the Dawn spacecraft have revealed a dark, heavily cratered world whose brightest area is made of highly reflective salts - and not ice. At first glance, Ceres, the largest body in the main asteroid belt, may not look icy.
However, as per a new study in the journal Science, Ceres’ uppermost surface is rich in hydrogen, with higher concentrations at mid-to-high latitudes - consistent with broad expanses of water ice.
Newly published studies from Dawn scientists show two distinct lines of evidence for ice at or near the surface of the dwarf planet, says NASA.
— NASA (@NASA) December 15, 2016
"These studies support the idea that ice separated from rock early in Ceres’ history, forming an ice-rich crustal layer, and that ice has remained near the surface over the history of the solar system," said Carol Raymond, deputy principal investigator of the Dawn mission, based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.
Water ice on other planetary bodies is important because it is an essential ingredient for life as we know it. "By finding bodies that were water-rich in the distant past, we can discover clues as to where life may have existed in the early solar system," Raymond said.
"On Ceres, ice is not just localized to a few craters. It's everywhere, and nearer to the surface with higher latitudes," said Thomas Prettyman, principal investigator of Dawn's gamma ray and neutron detector (GRaND), based at the Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, Arizona.
A second study focused on craters that are persistently in shadow in Ceres' northern hemisphere also confirmed the presence of ice.
Researchers are presenting these findings at the 2016 American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.
Scientists say regardless of its origin, water molecules on Ceres have the ability to hop around from warmer regions to the poles.
The goal of the Dawn mission, lauched in September 2007, is to more about formation and makeup of early solar system. Dawn is the first spacecraft to orbit two extraterrestrial bodies and the first spacecraft to visit two of the three known protoplanets of the asteroid belt - Vesta or Ceres. It is also the first to visit a dwarf planet, Ceres.