The uncertainty of science: In a paper released today, scientists puzzle over the amount of water they have detected evaporating from the dwarf planet Ceres, finding that observations by Dawn of its surface do not provide enough water sources to explain the amount of water in its thin atmosphere.
From the abstract:
The dwarf planet Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt, is known to contain large amounts of water ice, and water vapor was detected around it. Possible sources of the water are surface exposure of ice through impacts and subsequent sublimation when heated by sunlight, or volcanic activity. It turns out that with either process it is difficult to create sufficient water vapor to explain the observations. This means that the geological processes on Ceres are not fully understood.
They propose several possible explanations for the discrepancy. Either the measurements of evaporation are wrong, or they have not fully mapped the surface water sources on Ceres. Either or both are certainly possible, as there are great uncertainties here.
To me, the most interesting quote from their paper however is the amount of water discovered. Besides finding water on the surface at nine locations “localized on crater floors or slopes, and generally in or close to shadows,” they also found a lot of water under the surface.
The gamma ray and neutron detector on Dawn discovered a global ice‐rich layer in the subsurface of Ceres, at a depth of ~1 m in equatorial regions and much closer to the surface in polar regions. The estimated abundance of ice in this layer is ~10%. … Evidence for ice on depth scales of a few kilometers is [also] reported by Sizemore et al. (2018). From the analysis of geomorphological features, they find that the distribution of ice is heterogeneous on scales of 1 km to hundreds of kilometers.
In other words, Ceres has a lot of water below the surface, even if the evaporation rate observed by Dawn does not at present match the amount of water vapor observed surrounding Ceres.
From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.
Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.
The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.
He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.
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