An Oasis in the Void: Dwarf Planet Ceres Is Venting Water

Ceres is a dwarf planet in the asteroid belt, between Mars and Jupiter

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Ceres, as seen by Hubble. Wikimedia Commons

A third of the way between Mars and Jupiter lies the asteroid belt—the remnants of a failed planet. The largest object in the asteroid belt is the dwarf planet Ceres, a 590-mile-wide body that, researchers now say, is spouting water into space.

Ceres is a dwarf planet, the same class as Pluto, and it's about a quarter the size of the Moon. Scientists actually thought that Ceres had water before this, but these most recent observations, from a team of scientists with the European Space Agency, were the first to really show it conclusively.

The detection of water on Ceres is just the latest discovery to show that our solar system is a much wetter place than we thought.

In December, researchers found evidence of water vapor spouting off Jupiter's moon Europa. We already knew about water vapor spouting from Saturn's moon Enceladus, and water on Mars has been confirmed many times over.

Some people are using the detection of water on Ceres to ponder about the existence of life elsewhere in the solar system, because, after all, on Earth the presence of water usually means the presence of life.

But that kind of thinking, the researchers say, is “a stretch,” says Reuters.

"There's a lot more than just water that's required for life. And whether Ceres has those other ingredients — which include, for example, a source of energy and all of the nutrients that life requires, the rest of the chemistry — it's too early to say."

Either way, this finding about the dwarf planet is just the first in what will likely be a string of new information. NASA has a spacecraft, Dawn, en route to Ceres right now. It should arrive in about a year.

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