Ceres landslides reveal patches of hidden ice

"It seems more and more that Ceres is our innermost icy world," said researcher Britney Schmidt.
By Brooks Hays  |  April 18, 2017 at 11:32 AM
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April 18 (UPI) -- The evidence of water ice on Ceres continues to mount. Scientists say newly discovered landslides on the dwarf planet offer further proof that significant amounts of ice are hiding just beneath Ceres' surface.

Using images captured by NASA's Dawn spacecraft, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology identified three types of landslides on Ceres -- the solar system's only asteroid classified as a dwarf planet.

Type I landslides are found among Ceres' high-altitude terrain. They're large, round and resemble icy landslides found in the Arctic. Type II landslides are thinner, longer and populate Ceres' mid-latitudes. They're the most common type of landslide found on Ceres. Type III are found along the edges of low-altitude impact creators. They're triggered when impacts melt subsurface ice.

"Landslides cover more area in the poles than at the equator, but most surface processes generally don't care about latitude," lead researcher Britney Schmidt, an assistant professor at Georgia Tech's School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, said in a news release. "That's one reason why we think it's ice affecting the flow processes. There's no other good way to explain why the poles have huge, thick landslides; mid-latitudes have a mixture of sheeted and thick landslides; and low latitudes have just a few."

Researchers found a surprisingly large number of landslides on Ceres' surface. Nearly a third of all surveyed craters wider than six miles were accompanied by a landslide. The abundance of landslides suggests ice makes up between 10 and 50 percent of Ceres' upper layers.

Researchers say their revelations -- detailed in the journal Nature Geoscience -- were made possible by comparing Ceres' geologic features to those found on Earth.

"It's just kind of fun that we see features on this small planet that remind us of those on the big planets, like Earth and Mars," Schmidt said. "It seems more and more that Ceres is our innermost icy world."

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