Abstract

The ‘snowline’ conventionally divides Solar System objects into dry bodies, ranging out to the main asteroid belt, and icy bodies beyond the belt. Models suggest that some of the icy bodies may have migrated into the asteroid belt1. Recent observations indicate the presence of water ice on the surface of some asteroids2,3,4, with sublimation5 a potential reason for the dust activity observed on others. Hydrated minerals have been found6,7,8 on the surface of the largest object in the asteroid belt, the dwarf planet (1) Ceres, which is thought to be differentiated into a silicate core with an icy mantle9,10,11. The presence of water vapour around Ceres was suggested by a marginal detection of the photodissociation product of water, hydroxyl (ref. 12), but could not be confirmed by later, more sensitive observations13. Here we report the detection of water vapour around Ceres, with at least 1026 molecules being produced per second, originating from localized sources that seem to be linked to mid-latitude regions on the surface14,15. The water evaporation could be due to comet-like sublimation or to cryo-volcanism, in which volcanoes erupt volatiles such as water instead of molten rocks.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

References

  1. 1.

    , , , & A low mass for Mars from Jupiter’s early gas-driven migration. Nature 475, 206–209 (2011)

  2. 2.

    et al. Water ice and organics on the surface of the asteroid 24 Themis. Nature 464, 1320–1321 (2010)

  3. 3.

    & Detection of ice and organics on an asteroidal surface. Nature 464, 1322–1323 (2010)

  4. 4.

    et al. (65) Cybele: detection of small silicate grains, water-ice, and organics. Astron. Astrophys. 525, A34 (2011)

  5. 5.

    The active asteroids. Astron. J. 143, 66 (2012)

  6. 6.

    , , , & The 1.7- to 4.2-micron spectrum of asteroid 1 Ceres: evidence for structural water in clay minerals. Icarus 48, 453–459 (1981)

  7. 7.

    , , , & Evidence for ammonium-bearing minerals on Ceres. Science 255, 1551–1553 (1992)

  8. 8.

    & Brucite and carbonate assemblages from altered olivine-rich materials on Ceres. Nature Geosci. 2, 258–261 (2009)

  9. 9.

    et al. Differentiation of the asteroid Ceres as revealed by its shape. Nature 437, 224–226 (2005)

  10. 10.

    & Ceres: evolution and current state. J. Geophys. Res. 110, E05009 (2005)

  11. 11.

    & Ceres’ evolution and present state constrained by shape data. Icarus 205, 443–459 (2010)

  12. 12.

    & Water vaporization on Ceres. Icarus 98, 54–60 (1992)

  13. 13.

    et al. A search for water vaporization on Ceres. Astron. J. 142, 125 (2011)

  14. 14.

    et al. Near-infrared mapping and physical properties of the dwarf-planet Ceres. Astron. Astrophys. 478, 235–244 (2008)

  15. 15.

    et al. The remarkable surface homogeneity of the Dawn mission target (1) Ceres. Icarus 217, 20–26 (2012)

  16. 16.

    et al. The Herschel-Heterodyne Instrument for the Far-Infrared (HIFI). Astron. Astrophys. 518, L6 (2010)

  17. 17.

    et al. Herschel Space Observatory. An ESA facility for far-infrared and submillimetre astronomy. Astron. Astrophys. 518, L1 (2010)

  18. 18.

    Density of asteroids. Planet. Space Sci. 73, 98–118 (2012)

  19. 19.

    et al. Photometric analysis of 1 Ceres and surface mapping from HST observations. Icarus 182, 143–160 (2006)

  20. 20.

    et al. The 1995–2002 long-term monitoring of comet C/1995 O1 (Hale–Bopp) at radio wavelength. Earth Moon Planets 90, 5–14 (2002)

  21. 21.

    , , & Comparison between Navier–Stokes and direct Monte-Carlo simulations of the circumnuclear coma I. Homogeneous, spherical sources. Icarus 156, 249–268 (2002)

  22. 22.

    , , , & Radiative transfer simulation of water rotational excitation in comets. Comparison of the Monte Carlo and escape probability methods. Astron. Astrophys. 473, 303–310 (2007)

  23. 23.

    & The water regime of asteroid (1) Ceres. Icarus 82, 97–110 (1989)

  24. 24.

    , & Melting of Io by tidal dissipation. Science 203, 892–894 (1979)

  25. 25.

    , , & High heat flow from Enceladus' south polar region measured using 10–600 cm-1 Cassini/CIRS data. J. Geophys. Res. 116, E03003 (2011)

  26. 26.

    , & Ceres: its origin, evolution and structure and Dawn’s potential contribution. Space Sci. Rev. 163, 63–76 (2011)

  27. 27.

    & The Dawn mission to Vesta and Ceres. Space Sci. Rev. 163, 3–23 (2011)

  28. 28.

    et al. in The Solar System Beyond Neptune (eds , , & ) 525–541 (Univ. Arizona Press, 2008)

  29. 29.

    , & Ceres light curve analysis—period determination. Icarus 188, 451–456 (2007).

  30. 30.

    et al. Herschel celestial calibration sources: four large main-belt asteroids as prime flux calibrators for the far-IR/sub-mm range. Exp. Astron. (in the press)

Download references

Acknowledgements

Herschel is an ESA space observatory with science instruments provided by European-led principal investigator consortia and with important participation by NASA. The HIFI was designed and built by a consortium of institutes and university departments from across Europe, Canada and the United States under the leadership of SRON, the Netherlands Institute for Space Research, and with major contributions from Germany, France and the USA. This development was supported by national funding agencies: CEA, CNES, CNRS (France); ASI (Italy); and DLR (Germany). Additional funding support for some instrument activities was provided by the ESA. We thank the team at the Herschel Science Centre for their flexibility in scheduling the observations. We thank the Herschel Project Scientist and the Time Allocation Committee for the allocation of Director Discretionary Time. B.C. acknowledges support from the faculty of the European Space Astronomy Centre (ESAC). We thank A. Pollock for proofreading the final text.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. European Space Agency, European Space Astronomy Centre, PO Box 78, Villanueva de la Cañada 28691, Spain

    • Michael Küppers
    • , Laurence O’Rourke
    • , Benoît Carry
    • , David Teyssier
    •  & Anthony Marston
  2. Laboratoire d'études spatiales et d'instrumentation en astrophysique, Observatoire de Paris, CNRS, Université Pierre et Marie Curie (UPMC), Université Paris-Diderot, 5 Place Jules Janssen, 92195 Meudon, France

    • Dominique Bockelée-Morvan
    • , Vladimir Zakharov
    • , Jacques Crovisier
    • , M. Antonietta Barucci
    •  & Raphael Moreno
  3. Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, 4800 Oak Grove Drive, La Cañada Flintridge, California 91011, USA

    • Seungwon Lee
    •  & Paul von Allmen
  4. Institut de Mécanique Céleste et de Calcul des Éphémérides, Observatoire de Paris, Unité Mixte de Recherche (UMR) 8028, CNRS, 77 Avenue Denfert Rochereau, 75014 Paris, France

    • Benoît Carry
  5. Max-Planck-Institut für extraterrestrische Physik (MPE), Giessenbachstrasse 1, 85748 Garching, Germany

    • Thomas Müller

Authors

  1. Search for Michael Küppers in:

  2. Search for Laurence O’Rourke in:

  3. Search for Dominique Bockelée-Morvan in:

  4. Search for Vladimir Zakharov in:

  5. Search for Seungwon Lee in:

  6. Search for Paul von Allmen in:

  7. Search for Benoît Carry in:

  8. Search for David Teyssier in:

  9. Search for Anthony Marston in:

  10. Search for Thomas Müller in:

  11. Search for Jacques Crovisier in:

  12. Search for M. Antonietta Barucci in:

  13. Search for Raphael Moreno in:

Contributions

M.K. proposed the observations of Ceres with HIFI as part of L.O’R.’s MACH-11 Guaranteed Time Program. M.K., L.O’R., D.B.-M., B.C., D.T. and A.M. planned the observations. M.K., D.B.-M., B.C., D.T., R.M. and J.C. contributed to the data analysis. The modelling was performed by D.B.-M., V.Z., S.L., P.v.A. and T.M. The manuscript was written by M.K., L.O’R., D.B.-M., B.C. and M.A.B. All authors discussed the results and reviewed the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Michael Küppers.

Extended data

Supplementary information

PDF files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Information

    This file contains Supplementary Text and Data and additional references.

About this article

Publication history

Received

Accepted

Published

DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nature12918

Further reading

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.