APR 24, 2017 8:16 AM PDT

Ceres' Temporary Atmosphere Might be Caused by Solar Activity

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt, which means it's not particularly difficult to observe. Even more convenient is that it’s not very far away; residing just between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.

These key qualities are not only convenient for astronomers, but they’ve also made it possible for Ceres to be observed up close via NASA’s Dawn mission and with Earth-based observatories. During these observations, experts have noticed that Ceres sometimes exhibits an atmosphere-like layer near its North and South poles, but it seems to fade away after about a week worth of time.

How Ceres gets its ‘temporary’ atmosphere has eluded scientists for a while, but one of the most commonly-accepted theories is that because Ceres orbits the Sun in an elliptical manner, it warms up as it gets closer to the Sun during its orbit. This, in turn, evaporates surface ice into vapor particulates that make up what we sometimes see, similarly to what happens on a comet.

Ceres sometimes exhibits a "temporary" atmosphere at its poles. But why?

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/PSI

On the other hand, scientists are now proposing a new theory that places the blame for the temporary atmosphere on solar activity rather than the placement of Ceres in its elliptical orbit around the Sun. The theory is described in a paper published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

"We think the occurrence of Ceres' transient atmosphere is the product of solar activity," said study lead author Michaela Villarreal from the University of California, Los Angeles. "Sublimation probably is present, but we don't think it's significant enough to produce the amount of exosphere that we're seeing."

As accelerated particles from the Sun’s own solar winds strike the ice that's embedded in Ceres’ surface, the ice evaporates, forming the atmospheric clouds that are sometimes observed for temporary periods of time.

Related: Ceres is a lot icer than originally thought

Interestingly, because experts have observed the temporary atmospheric formations even when Ceres isn’t at its closest point to the Sun, solar activity would have to be one of the only logical explanations for why this occurs.

Because the Sun is currently entering a lull period that’s expected to be of a scale similar to that of the Maunder minimum, experts are more interested than ever to study Ceres to find out if solar activity is truly the cause behind its temporary atmosphere.

Theoretically, because solar activity is in the midst of slowing down as indicated by the absence of sunspot activity on our Sun, we should see less atmospheric changes occurring on Ceres over the next few years, which would tell us once and for all whether solar activity is responsible for much of the confusion.

The Dawn mission is studying Ceres up close, and the study authors also recommend other observatories keep their eye on Ceres as well for the sake of accurate data and the possibility of uncovering important discoveries.

Source: NASA

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
JUL 15, 2021
Space & Astronomy
Modern Slavery in Greece Spotted from Space
JUL 15, 2021
Modern Slavery in Greece Spotted from Space
Migrant settlements being exploited for work have been spotted with satellite imagery by researchers led by the Universi ...
JUL 18, 2021
Earth & The Environment
Climate Change has Tilted the Axis of the Earth
JUL 18, 2021
Climate Change has Tilted the Axis of the Earth
The axis of the Earth intersects the planet at the magnetic pole, and Earth's poles are known to wander. They can even f ...
SEP 14, 2021
Space & Astronomy
NASA is Planning to Shoot a Spacecraft Into an Asteroid
SEP 14, 2021
NASA is Planning to Shoot a Spacecraft Into an Asteroid
NASA can detect asteroids, so there's been plenty of speculation about what might happen if we discover an asteroid ...
SEP 29, 2021
Space & Astronomy
When a Meteor Destroyed an Ancient City, It May Have Inspired Biblical Tales
SEP 29, 2021
When a Meteor Destroyed an Ancient City, It May Have Inspired Biblical Tales
This meteor may have caused a blast as large as the one in the Tunguska Event, and totally flattened a city.
DEC 15, 2021
Space & Astronomy
In a Stellar First, a NASA Spacecraft Has "Touched" the Sun by Entering Its Upper Atmosphere
DEC 15, 2021
In a Stellar First, a NASA Spacecraft Has "Touched" the Sun by Entering Its Upper Atmosphere
Humanity, through the arm of NASA and John Hopkins University scientists, engineers, and support staff, has achieved a s ...
DEC 28, 2021
Space & Astronomy
You Can Follow NASA's Webb Telescope On Its Journey Through Space
DEC 28, 2021
You Can Follow NASA's Webb Telescope On Its Journey Through Space
After a long series of delays and pushbacks, the James Webb Space Telescope successfully launched into space this past C ...
Loading Comments...