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Stunning NASA image reveals mysterious ice mountain on the dwarf planet Ceres that scientists say is like 'nothing humanity has ever seen before'

Daily Mail logo Daily Mail 6/20/2019 Cheyenne Macdonald For Dailymail.com

A stunning new image constructed from surface maps has revealed a close-up look at the otherworldly features on the surface of Ceres. According to the space agency, the unusual mountain is ‘like nothing that humanity has ever seen before.’ The image was created using detailed surface maps

A stunning new image constructed from surface maps has revealed a close-up look at the otherworldly features on the surface of Ceres. According to the space agency, the unusual mountain is ‘like nothing that humanity has ever seen before.’ The image was created using detailed surface maps
© Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited

A stunning new image constructed from surface maps has revealed a close-up look at the otherworldly features on the surface of Ceres.

NASA’s now-retired Dawn spacecraft reached the dwarf planet in 2015, making it the first to visit an object of this kind.

And, it uncovered many peculiarities.

The strange looking mountain in the latest image featured on NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day highlights one such oddity; while it’s unclear what exactly spurred its formation, experts suspect it may be evidence of a mud bubble from deep inside the planet that froze over after breaching the surface.

Ceres has garnered much intrigue after the Dawn mission snapped images of mysterious bright spots on its surface. But, detailed observations from the spacecraft revealed these aren’t its only treasures.

The image shared this week was created using surface maps taken during 2016.

The mountain, called Ahuna Mons, is ‘the largest mountain on the largest known asteroid in our solar system,’ NASA says.

Ceres sits in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

According to the space agency, the unusual mountain is ‘like nothing that humanity has ever seen before.’

‘The new hypothesis, based on numerous gravity measurements, holds that a bubble of mud rose from deep within the dwarf planet and pushed through the icy surface at a weak point rich in reflective salt -- and then froze,’ NASA says.

‘The bright streaks are thought to be similar to other recently surfaced material such as visible in Ceres' famous bright spots.’

Since its discovery, scientists have speculated on the possibility that Ceres may be able to support life.

An analysis published in 2018 based on data from the Dawn spacecraft suggests previously-identified patches of organic material on the surface may contain much higher abundance of carbon-based compounds than initially estimated.

While it doesn’t mean life exists on the dwarf planet, the discovery adds new clues to the question of Ceres’ potential habitability.

Scientists first announced the discovery of organic material – a necessary component for the existence of life – in 2017.

Organics can be produced through non-biological processes as well. Just how they arrived on Ceres, however, remains a mystery.

As the planet is also known to contain an abundance of water ice, scientists say the possibility of more widespread organic material is worth investigating.

According to the researchers, there are two likely explanations for Ceres’ organic material: production on the planet itself and later exposed to the surface, or import from an impact by a comet.

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