STRANGE bright spots on a nearby dwarf planet could be an underground ocean, according to scientists.
Dwarf planet Ceres is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and it’s technically the largest asteroid in our Solar System.
Dwarf planets are similar to normal planets but are often smaller and surrounded by rogue debris.
According to new analysis of data from Nasa’s Dawn space probe Ceres is an ocean world, potentially covered in salty water.
The study highlighted that more research into Ceres is needed to see if it could be habitable and if it currently supports alien life.
Unusual bright spots were spotted in a crater on the dwarf planet by the Dawn probe back in 2015.
Scientists soon discovered these bright spots were a type of salt called sodium carbonate.
This substance is also found deep down in Earth’s oceans around hydrothermal vents.
These vents are surrounded by life forms despite being too far away from the Sun for photosynthesis to occur.
Debate over the salty substance in the crater on Ceres surrounds whether it was left behind from melting ice after an impact or whether an impact brought underground water to the surface.
New research suggests the latter option is the answer and the watery mixture could still be there.
Recent analysis of space probe data from Ceres indicates a reservoir of brine – salty water – below the crater.
The researchers wrote: “We find that pre-existing tectonic cracks may provide pathways for deep brines to migrate within the crust, extending the regions affected by impacts and creating compositional heterogeneity.”
A second study focused on Ceres’s crust and found ice volcanoes could have been active on the planet around two million years ago.
However, differing types of salts on the surface have suggested there may be multiple explanations for the presence of salt, not just an underground ocean.
Lots of mysteries still surround Ceres, like how it formed and how it could be warm enough to support water.
Nasa is looking into further study of Ceres, which could even involve sending a rover.
The space agency thinks the brine reservoir on the planet could be 25 miles deep.
The researchers have published their studies in Nature Astronomy, Nature Geoscience, and Nature Communications.
In other space news, Nasa has shared a stunning image of Jupiter that looks just look a pepperoni pizza.
The Moon has been used as a gigantic mirror by scientists on the hunt for other habitable planets.
And, Venus may have been habitable ocean world 700million years ago.
Do you believe in aliens? Let us know in the comments…
We pay for your stories! Do you have a story for The Sun Online Tech & Science team? at [email protected]