NASA have recently discovered a solitary ice volcano situated on the dwarf planet Ceres. However, they suspect that this might not be the only one cryovolcano around.
In 2015, a NASA spacecraft called Dawn discovered the 2.5-mile cryovolcano on Ceres. They called it Ahuna Mons. There are other icy celestial bodies in our solar system that may host such volcanoes (Pluto, Europa, Triton), but it was thought that Ahuna Mons was the only cryovolcano on Ceres. Also, the dwarf planet is closer to the sun that these other planets.
Now, scientists believe that Ahuna Mons might not have been the only cryovolcano to exist on Ceres. They suspect that many other formations existed billions of years ago, but now they have most probably flattened and are not visible anymore from the surface of the planet.
Michael Sori, researcher at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory of the University of Arizona in Tucson, claims that it is actually possible that such volcanoes previously existed on Ceres but they were deformed and are no longer visible.
Ahuna Mons is quite prominent, measuring about half of the height of Mount Everest. This singular presence on Ceres has been quite a puzzle for scientists. Also, they have been surprised by the steep features of the cryovolcano, signs which usually show geological youth. This leads to two possibilities.
One of them suggests exactly what it seems. Ahuna Mons is a singular volcano on Ceres which has formed quite recently. The second possibility is the fact that the cryovolcano is neither alone nor unusual, but it hosts some processes that have caused other older volcanoes to flatten. Thus, Ahuna Mons remained the only volcanic formation on the dwarf planet.
Since Ceres has not the same conditions as Earth, the researchers suspected that viscous relaxation is the process that caused the volcanoes to wear down. This implies that all solids eventually flow. If volcanoes on Ceres were made of ice, then viscous relaxation was possible.
The scientists created a model of Ahuna Mons’ dimensions to test their hypothesis. Given that the volcano is young, they discovered it had not had the time to flow yet, compared to its older companions. If they flatten at a rate of 30 to 160 feet, this is enough to make them undetectable in millions of years.
Now, the next step that the researchers will make is look for the remnants of the flattened volcanoes. Soon, they might have proof of the fact that Ahuna Mons was not the only cryovolcano on Ceres.
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons