Astronomers could hardly believe their eyes when they saw a 12,000ft mountain of ice rising from the surface of the dwarf planet Ceres in images sent back by NASA’s Dawn probe.
The mountain ‘is like nothing that humanity has ever seen before’, NASA said this week.
The mountain of ice (Ahuna Mons) is even, smooth, and steep-sided, and now scientists from the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) believe they know how it formed.
Basically, the mountain is a huge mud volcano, made of hot mud which burst through the surface at a weak point covered in reflective salt - then froze in the bitter cold of space.
When it was first discovered, Ceres was believed to be a ‘missing planet’ – but it’s now considered a dwarf planet alongside Pluto.
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The Dawn spacecraft, driven by a Star Trek-style ion drive, orbited Ceres for the first time in 2015, capturing data which is now being analysed by scientists.
The researchers analysed measurements of the dwarf planet.
Wladimir Neumann of the DLR Institute of Planetary Research in Berlin-Adlershof and the University of Muenster said, ‘In this region, the interior of Ceres is not solid and rigid, but moving and at least partially fluid
‘This 'bubble' that formed in the mantle of Ceres beneath Ahuna Mons is a mixture of saline water and rock components.’
The researchers write, ‘A bubble made of a mixture of salt water, mud and rock rose from within the dwarf planet.
‘The bubble pushed the ice-rich crust upwards, and at a structural weak point the muddy substance, comprising salts and hydrogenated silicates, was pushed to the surface, solidified in the cold of space, in the absence of any atmosphere, and piled up to form a mountain.
‘Ahuna Mons is an enormous mud volcano.’