Ahuna Mons. That’s the name of the highest mountain in the solar system. Standing 4 miles high and located on the dwarf planet Ceres, this mountain is very unusual.
NASA’s New Dawn probe had recently visited Ceres, although it is basically ‘dead’ given it ran out of fuel. Nevertheless, it will stay in orbit around the massive space rock ‘for decades’ and be part of humanity’s space-faring legacy.
Ceres is located within the asteroid belt that lies sandwiched between Mars and Jupiter.
It has become an object of interest, given its massive size and spherical shape, making it appear similar to Earth’s moon.
What’s striking about Ceres is that it has a gigantic mountain towering over its surface. Thanks to mapping data that was generated by the Dawn probe, we now have amazing images of the mountain.
So, what makes this mountain so special? First of all, its slopes don’t have any signs of weathering from being bombarded by meteors. There’s not a single crater! There are, however, young vertical streaks.
The new hypothesis [abouts its origins] 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. ‘The bright streaks are thought to be similar to other recently surfaced material such as visible in Ceres’ famous bright spots.
Could mud bubbles be the cause of this young mountain? It turns out, that may very well be the case. There’s an abundance of organic chemicals, the so-called ‘building blocks of life’ in the soils of Ceres. NASA’s New Dawn probe discovered that there are high levels of organic compounds…way more than originally thought. This means that the compounds that are necessary for life appear on Ceres.
Hannah Kaplan is a researcher based out of the Southwest Research Institute. Leading the research, she remarked that this discovery is, “important not only for Ceres, but also for missions that will soon explore asteroids that may also contain organic material.”
Ceres is a place shrouded in mystery. After all, it’s where the infamous “alien mystery lights” appear from time to time on its surface. Could it be as simple as light reflecting off ice or is there a more extraterrestrial causes? For now, it remains a mystery.