Ice Volcanoes Could Hold Clues To Planet Habitability

By Sara Hammond
Published: Friday, February 3, 2017 - 12:50pm
Updated: Monday, February 6, 2017 - 3:07pm
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(Photo courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)
Ahuna Mons, dwarf planet Ceres' lonely mountain.

A solo ice volcano on the dwarf planet Ceres is prompting Arizona researchers to look for other mountains that may have flattened over time. Evidence of past geologic activity could be places to look for signs of life in the universe.

Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has been orbiting the space rock since 2015. Ceres’ single prominent mountain is thought to be a cryovolcano, whose erupted magma includes water or ice.

University of Arizona planetary scientist Michael Sori said his research focuses on determining if there were other cyrovolcanoes on the dwarf.

“Imagine on Earth if there was only one volcano on all of Earth. That would be a very strange phenomenon, and we’d have to come up with a good explanation for that," Sori said.

Sori and his team believe other cryovolcanoes may have flattened out over time through a flow process called viscous relaxation. On Earth, he said, think of a glacier as perennial ice that flows over time.

Sori said cryovolcano locations on various bodies in the universe could be astrobiology targets as humans continue to look for habitability and potential signs of life.

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