Ceres is the largest celestial body located within the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. First spotted by Giuseppe Piazzi in 1801, it was initially identified as an asteroid. With its remarkable size compared to the rest of the objects surrounding it, it was declared as a dwarf planet in 2006. But still, Pluto is around 14 times larger.
In 2015, the Dawn spacecraft orbited Ceres, making it the first dwarf planet to be explored. During that voyage, the Occator Crater that’s 57 miles wide found on the planet’s surface was the main focal point of the study. It appeared to exhibited bright spots that were later found out to be deposits of sodium carbonate. The conclusion that a large ocean lay hidden under the crater. The large salt deposits may have helped in preserving the large body of water through extremely low temperatures.
It is still unknown as to how the crater was created, but the impact of that collision could have cracked the planet’s outer crust, allowing the carbonates to seep through. The discoloration resulted from the evaporation of water, revealing the substance in an almost pure solid form.
Hydrated chloride salts were also found in the middle of the bright region of the crater’s center that is referred to as the Cerealia Facula. The salt is called hydrohalite and is usually contained in marine ice in the oceans of Earth. It is the first time that the substance is found on a foreign planet.
Based on the environmental conditions, the exposed salts should not easily be rid of water. However, the ones found on Ceres seemed to dehydrate at a much faster rate. Though it was not completely devoid of water, scientists believe that the continually rising salt deposits imply that the ocean underneath still exists.
Ceres possesses distinguishing characteristics as a dwarf planet - its ability to store water being one. Dwarf planets and asteroids are not water-friendly environments yet Ceres managed to preserve an ocean just below its icy exterior. It could have been a fully-developed planet, but Jupiter’s gravitational pull might have been the cause for its discontinued development.