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Space Science

Water Plume Detected At Dwarf Planet Ceres 66

Posted by Soulskill
from the alright-who-left-the-sprinklers-on dept.
astroengine writes "Astronomers analyzing data from the now defunct Herschel infrared space observatory have made a huge discovery deep inside the asteroid belt. Dwarf planet Ceres, the largest body in the region, is generating plumes of water vapor. 'This is the first time water vapor has been unequivocally detected on Ceres or any other object in the asteroid belt and provides proof that Ceres has an icy surface and an atmosphere,' said Michael Küppers of the European Space Agency in Spain and lead author of a paper published today (Jan. 22) in the journal Nature."
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Water Plume Detected At Dwarf Planet Ceres

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  • Water=life (Score:5, Interesting)

    by T.E.D. (34228) on Wednesday January 22, 2014 @02:47PM (#46038613)

    On this planet, wherever liquid water is found, there is life. Even in some exceedingly extreme circumstances.

    Admittedly, that phenomenon has yet to be observed off of this planet. But neither has the phenomenon of lifeless water either...

  • by tie_guy_matt (176397) on Wednesday January 22, 2014 @03:19PM (#46038951)

    There are a lot of sci-fi shows/movies where the aliens are searching for water which is why they came to the earth. While I find a lot of these shows entertaining, I don't think they are that realistic. There does appear to be a fair amount of water in the universe. It would seem to me that you might be able to find other sources of water that don't involve pissing of a group of (reasonably) intelligent animals who, primitive as they may seem to the alien, do have nuclear weapons. Although if life on earth is anything like most alien life, then without liquid water we are all SOL. Most of us live with a faucet with an endless source so we do not know what it is like to live w/o a reliable source of water. However I can imagine that it is not fun at all.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 22, 2014 @03:19PM (#46038955)

    Can someone give me one good reason to not have water on Ceres, so that I may marvel at the fact that there is?

    According to these charts, [wikipedia.org] no. Water is made up of two of the three most abundant elements in the observed universe. It is also a comfortably stable compound, with no entropic or enthalpic incentive to separate.
    As far as I can tell, anything in the universe made up of 'conventional' matter will either have water on it, or will be a colossal fusion reactor with the components of water, but too much ambient energy for the electrons to even pick a single nucleus to orbit. (Neutron stars may be an exception, but I'm not sure I consider a 2-inch diameter clump of neutrons to be conventional. Still, more conventional than the [???] of a black hole though.)

  • Re:Water=life (Score:5, Interesting)

    by radtea (464814) on Wednesday January 22, 2014 @04:26PM (#46039633)

    Water plumes or not, I suspect...

    I suspect that suspicion is a code-word for ignorance.

    Water is an incredibly weird substance. It's a near-universal solvent and has constituent molecules that are fantastically reactive. Both properties make it uniquely well-suited to supporting the chemistry that imperfectly-reproducing molecular machines depend on.

    It's not too much to say that once you add water to the sorts of chemicals we know are relatively common throughout the universe, it's difficult not to get life, if you're willing to wait long enough.

    As for energy: the last time I looked Ceres was not at absolute zero, nor was it chemically inert nor free from radioactivity. While it almost certainly doesn't have a molten core, if it has a composition similar to Earth's crust it's generating about a nano-joule per kilogram from radioactive decay (mostly 40K) which sounds small until you realize the total mass is almost 10^21 kg, so it's getting on for 10 TW in radioactive energy alone. It has a warm interior, with a thermal gradient near the surface that might well power molecular machines.

    Also, Ceres orbits at just under 3 AU, so the solar flux on its surface is about 10% of what we get on Earth, which would make the integrated solar flux comparable to what is seen on Earth at about 55 degrees latitude in winter, well below the (ant)arctic circle. This region includes permafrost-free zones in Northern Canada.

    Enough energy for life? Maybe, maybe not. But certainly a far stronger argument for the presence of life than anyone's "suspicions" against it, which only include information about the person in question and tell us exactly nothing about the world at large.

    Posting "I suspect X (therefore, at least implicitly, you should believe X)" is exactly like saying, "I had toast for breakfast, therefore you should believe X". You have posted a fact about yourself (your suspicions, your feelings, what you had for breakfast) as if were in some way germane to a conclusion about a part of the world that is not you.

The first rule of intelligent tinkering is to save all the parts. -- Paul Erlich

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