A team of researchers from Spain suggests the surface of the dwarf planet Ceres is experiencing wrinkles as it shrinks.
Ceres is the closest dwarf planet to Earth. It is the largest member of the asteroid belt with a width of about 585 miles (940 kilometers).
Studies show that planets made of rock tend to have wrinkle formations on their surface. Scientists believe these wrinkles form as the planets cool down. When rock cools, it grows denser and contracts, forming thrust faults as a result. Such faults form when older rock pushes over younger rock.
Previous research found that icy moons such as Europa and Ganymede have rifts on their surfaces that could have formed as they cooled and some ice melted. Water is denser than ice, so it forced expansion of the interior, resulting in cracks.
Now, the group of researchers analyzed data from the Dawn spacecraft and found thrust faults on Ceres. This suggests the dwarf planet is shrinking over time, unlike icy bodies of comparable size, and as a result, wrinkles are forming on its surface.
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NASA launched the Dawn mission back in 2007 to study the two most massive objects in the asteroid belt, Vesta and Ceres. The mission ended on 1 November 2018, but scientists are still studying the data it sent back.
The scientists analyzed photos that NASA’s Dawn spacecraft captured in 2015 and 2016 as it orbited about 240 miles (385 km) above the surface of Ceres. They found ridges, fractures, and slopes linked with 15 possible thrust faults on Ceres that are similar to features that caused shrinking on Mercury and Mars. The researchers detected faults mostly in regions close to the poles.
But scientists suggest another theory might be possible. They propose the idea that Ceres may be shrinking due to the formation of layers of different material beneath the surface.
However, scientists need to conduct more research to fill in more details of the history of the dwarf planet.
The researchers detailed their findings online July 1 in the journal Nature Astronomy.