GREENBELT, Md., July 8 (UPI) -- NASA's Dawn probe has successfully mapped the craters on Ceres that can accumulate ice.
Researchers suspect conditions in many of the dwarf planet's craters have been cold enough to trap ice for a billion years. If that's the case, ice deposits are likely in several of the newly mapped craters.
"Ceres has just enough mass to hold on to water molecules, and the permanently shadowed regions we identified are extremely cold -- colder than most that exist on the moon or Mercury," Norbert Schorghofer, a researcher at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and a guest investigator on the Dawn mission, explained in a news release.
Cold traps -- crater pits or portions of the crater wall that never receive direct sunlight -- were predicted on Ceres, but haven't been specifically identified until now.
The largest cold trap identified by Dawn is located at the bottom of a crater 10 miles wide some 40 miles south of Ceres' north pole.
In total, Ceres features 695 square-miles of permanently shadowed terrain, less than one percent of the surface area of the dwarf planet's northern hemisphere.
"On Ceres, these regions act as cold traps down to relatively low latitudes," said Erwan Mazarico, also a Dawn guest investigator at Goddard. "On the moon and Mercury, only the permanently shadowed regions very close to the poles get cold enough for ice to be stable on the surface."
Computer simulations suggest one out of every 1,000 water molecules born on Ceres ends up in a cold trap. At that rate, the dwarf planet would have measurable ice deposits in just 1,000 years.
The latest Ceres survey was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.