Ahuna Mons: Giant Ice Volcano Half the Size of Mt. Everest Spotted on Dwarf Planet Ceres

Sep 05, 2016 06:06 AM EDT

Who could have thought that Ceres, a dwarf planet that orbits around the sun between Mars and Jupiter, can house one of the most massive ice volcano that is at least half the size of Earth’s Mt. Everest?


NASA’s Dawn spacecraft spotted what is possibly a giant ice mountain on the surface of the dwarf planet on Thursday, September 1, reports Science World Report. The rupture formed from repeated eruptions of freezing salty water is known as the Ahuna Mons, a volcanic dome standing four kilometers tall and 17 kilometers wide at the base-almost half the size of Mount Everest.

Scientists strongly believe that the ice volcano found in Ceres is the most evident cryovolcano to exist despite other potential volcanoes found in other planets like Pluto, according to Nature.

“This huge mountain was a surprise,” says lead author Ottaviano Ruesch, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “We were expecting to see just fluid plains of lava.”


Reusch and his colleagues made use of the data gathered from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft that started its planetary orbit around Ceres in March 2015. The findings showed that the planet might be geologically active and not merely a crater-filled rock and ice in space. Aside from crater-forming impacts, evidence indicate possible processes below its surface.

The researchers also noted that Ahuna Mons is a cryovolcano that was possibly shaped from a mix of salty mud that was then shaped geologically. The said ice volcano is extremely young compared to other volcanoes on the moon and Mars.

Another scientist named David A. William, associate research professor in Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, said that Ahuna Mons is the one true “mountain” on Ceres, and after a close study, interprets it as a dome raised by cryovolcanism.

“It shows nothing to indicate a tectonic formation, so that led us to consider cryovolcanism as a method for its origin,” he said via Daily Galaxy.

Slushy ice rather than molten lava form the dome of Ahuna Mons, which is considered as a frozen analog of Earth’s volcanoes such as the dome of Mount St. Helens in Washington. Surface temperature of the planet is at -113 C, which explains why the ice here is as hard as rocks. The scientists also think that the volcano also contains chloride and other salts.

NASA plans for Dawn to continue orbiting Ceres until the dwarf planet reaches perihelion, its closest approach to the sun, which will occur on April 2018. “We hope that by observing Ceres as it approaches perihelion, we might observe some active venting,” said Williams. “This would be an ideal way to end the mission.”


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from Department of Space Exploration