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Using the Herschel Space Telescope astronomers have detected water vapor spurting from Ceres, the solar system’s largest asteroid.
Herschel’s sensors spied plumes during three of the four observation periods. The strength of absorption varied over a matter of hours, a trend probably caused by relatively small sources of water vapour rotating in and out of view of Earth, the researchers say.
Data gathered in March 2013 suggest that the plumes originated from two widely separated, 60-kilometre-wide spots in the dwarf planet’s mid-latitude regions. Together, these spots ejected about 6 kilograms of water vapour into space each second. Neither ground-based observations nor images from the Hubble Space Telescope are keen enough to identify the as-yet-mysterious areas, says Küppers. “We don’t know what these features are, we just know that they’re darker than their surroundings,” he notes.
The NASA probe Dawn will arrive at Ceres early next year, and take a good look at these plumes. Should be exciting.