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Dwarf Planet ‘Ceres’, a rocky body inhabiting main Asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, is rich with Ice just beneath its Dark Surface: NASA

NASA's Dawn spacecraft has been orbiting Ceres, the largest of thousands of rocky bodies located in the main asteroid belt

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NASA's Dawn spacecraft image of the limb of dwarf planet Ceres shows a section of the northern hemisphere, Oct. 17, 2016. (Courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/Handout) VOA

San Francisco, Dec 17, 2016: The dwarf planet Ceres, an enigmatic rocky body inhabiting the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, is rich with ice just beneath its dark surface, scientists said on Thursday in research that may shed light on the early history of the solar system.

The discovery, reported in a pair of studies published in the journals Science and Nature Astronomy, could bolster fledgling commercial endeavors to mine asteroids for water and other resources for robotic and eventual human expeditions beyond the moon.

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NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has been orbiting Ceres, the largest of thousands of rocky bodies located in the main asteroid belt, since March 2015 following 14-month study of Vesta, the second-largest object in the asteroid belt.

The studies show that Ceres is about 10 percent water, now frozen into ice, according to physicist Thomas Prettyman of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, one of the researchers.

Examining the makeup of solar system objects like Ceres provides insight into how the solar system formed. Compared to dry Vesta, Ceres is more like Enceladus and Europa, icy moons of the giant gas planets Saturn and Jupiter respectively, than Earth and the other terrestrial planets Mercury, Venus and Mars, Prettyman added.

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Scientists are debating if Ceres hides a briny liquid ocean, a prospect that may put the dwarf planet on the growing list of worlds beyond the solar system that may be suitable for life, said Dawn deputy lead scientist Carol Raymond of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

“By finding bodies that were water-rich in the distant past, we can discover clues as to where life may have existed in the early solar system,” Raymond said in a statement.

The finding strengthens the case for the presence of near-surface water ice on other bodies in the main asteroid belt, Prettyman said.

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Information collected by Dawn showed that Ceres, unlike Vesta, has been using water to create minerals. Scientists combine mineralogical data with computer models to learn about its interior.

“Liquid water had to be in the interior of Ceres in order for us to see what’s on the surface,” Prettyman told a news conference at the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco. (VOA)

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Mars Rover’s Mission Now Over, Confirms NASA

Opportunity landed on Mars on January 24, 2004. First among the mission’s scientific goals was to search for and characterise a wide range of rocks and soils for clues to past water activity on Mars

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Mars Rover 2020. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

NASA has announced the end of its Opportunity rover’s mission, 15 years after its arrival on Mars.

The announcement was made on Wednesday at a press conference at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, following NASA’s last attempt to communicate with the rover on Tuesday night which got no response, Xinhua reported.

The rover last communicated with Earth on June 10, 2018, as a planet-wide dust storm blanketed the solar-powered rover’s location on Mars. It has not been heard from for eight months since then.

Opportunity likely experienced a low-power fault, a mission clock fault and an up-loss timer fault, according to the mission team.

Team members have tried to rouse the rover ever since, and radiated more than a thousand commands to restore contact. However, no signal was heard from again.

“Saying goodbye is hard, but it comes the time,” said John Callas, project manager for Opportunity.

“It is because of trailblazing missions such as Opportunity that there will come a day when our brave astronauts walk on the surface of Mars,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

“When that day arrives, some portion of that first footprint will be owned by the men and women of Opportunity, and a little rover that defied the odds and did so much in the name of exploration,” he said.

Also Read- Know How NASA’s Opportunity Mars Rover Enriched Space Science

The golf-cart-sized rover far exceeded its planned 90-day mission lifetimes. It has worked for nearly 15 years and travelled over 45 km by the time it reached its most appropriate final resting spot on Mars — Perseverance Valley.

Opportunity landed on Mars on January 24, 2004. First among the mission’s scientific goals was to search for and characterise a wide range of rocks and soils for clues to past water activity on Mars. (IANS)