For a long time, we thought Ceres was just the largest asteroid in the asteroid belt. But that protoplanet just got a whole lot more interesting.
As Slate reports, some new data from the Dawn spacecraft now indicates Ceres could be covered in frozen water. The protoplanet (aka an asteroid that had the potential to develop into a planet, but didn’t) is located between Mars and Jupiter, meaning it’s frozen and has no atmosphere — but still — finding water is a pretty big deal.
NASA has had the Dawn spacecraft orbiting and studying Ceres for more than a year, and the hard work has paid off. Initial photos indicated there might be scattered pockets of print water, but new findings seem to indicate that ice is far more widespread. They used the craft's instruments to figure out which elements were on the surface of Ceres, by studying how cosmic rays react when they hit it (science!). They discovered a whole lot of hydrogen, a key component in the wet stuff that sustains our lives.
The research team believes Ceres is likely made up of a gravel-like surface with water filling the cracks in between. As humans look for useful sites to establish midway space stations a few decades from, these findings could be very important. Those elements can be used to manufacture water, air and even rocket fuel. Not a bad stockpile to have located on a future space base.