March 28, 2016 | David F. Coppedge

Ceres Shows Serious Youth

The latest high-resolution images from asteroid Ceres show “mysteries” including surprisingly young features.

A year in orbit, the Dawn spacecraft has reached an orbital elevation above Ceres closer than the International Space Station is to Earth. Those puzzling bright spots in Occator Crater are now coming into sharp focus.

Ceres bright spots in Occator Crater

Ceres bright spots in Occator Crater

“Scientists think the bright spots are deposits of epsom salts (magnesium sulphate), the trace remains of briny water-ice that at one time became exposed on the surface,” the BBC News says. “With no atmosphere on the dwarf planet, the water content would have rapidly vaporised, leaving only the magnesium sulphate spots.” But there’s a problem. Space.com says, “But Occator is about 80 million years old, and bright material should not have lasted nearly that long on the surface, researchers said.” Deputy principal investigator Carol Raymond remarked in a press conference on March 22, “It’s hard to keep things bright on a planetary surface over time.

Another crater named Oxo shows evidence of water ice that should long be gone. New Scientist reports:

Seeing water ice anywhere on Ceres is a surprise as the surface is generally warm enough that any ice should evaporate into space. That means it must have been exposed recently, said Jean-Philippe Combe of the Bear Fight Institute in Winthrop, Washington. “This area is possibly a cold trap where H20-rich materials could be preserved for at least some time,” he said.

But 4.5 billion years? If the salt deposits at Occator cannot last 80 million years, much less should water ice persist for even a fraction of that time. The ice appears to be exposed, not locked in hydrated minerals.

Other “puzzling” features are bright walls on some craters, and a three-mile-high mountain named Ahuna Mons. Standing next to a crater with vertical slopes, it looks out of place out there all by itself. These and other distinctive features on Ceres can be seen clearly in a video clip embedded in coverage by Astrobiology Magazine.

Planetary scientists are not completely lacking in speculations about why these features exist. But when upper limits of a few tens of million years can be put on them, one has to wonder what was going on billions of years before that. What happened recently such that we can see them now? “Clearly, we have a lot of work to do to put together a self-consistent story,” Raymond said.

Slavish devotion to moyboy timeframes is the mother of planetary mysteries. We’re not asking them to downgrade their timelines from billions of years to thousands. If they would just be open to questioning the consensus timeline, kicking a little A.S.S., it would be a refreshing change toward transparency that might open up new vistas of understanding. Unfortunately, since Darwin needs the time, his mafia are forever on the prowl for dissenters.

 

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