Evidence of thrust faulting and widespread contraction of Ceres


The surface of the dwarf planet Ceres is considered to be dominated by geological processes typical of small bodies or medium-sized icy bodies, such as impact cratering1,2; there are also features of putative cryovolcanic origin3 as well as those related to flow of near-surface ice4. Extensional features4,5,6 include regional linear troughs, fractures and pit chains, fractures associated with impact craters and with crater floors, and polygonal craters whose walls seem to be structurally controlled. However, no contractional features, which are related to thrust fault activity more typical of large silicate bodies7,8,9,10,11, have been described. Here we report the presence of scarps, ridges and fractures associated with thrust faults, tectonically raised terrains and thrusted craters—all contractional features. These structures closely resemble thrust-fault-related lobate scarps on Mercury7,8 and Mars9,10, albeit with lower displacement. They seem more abundant in high-latitude ancient terrains, perhaps owing to illumination effects that aid identification. The observed deformation implies that the crustal material is stronger than water ice but weaker than silicate rocks, consistent with our current knowledge of crustal composition12 and rheology13. These features suggest that large-scale contraction, possibly related to differentiation processes, occurred in the history of Ceres.

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Fig. 1: Spatial distribution of identified thrust faults on Ceres.
Fig. 2: Kupalo–Juling thrust fault (Thrust 14) on Ceres.
Fig. 3: Shortened impact craters.
Fig. 4: The Inamahari–Aristaeus scarp (Thrust 11).

Data availability

The data that support the plots within this paper and other findings of this study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.


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The work by A.J.-D. was supported by a Juan de la Cierva-Formación postdoctoral contract (ref. FJCI-2016-28878) from the Spanish Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities. L.M.P. was supported by an FPU grant (2014/04842) from the Spanish Ministry of Education, and is a Graduate Fellow of the Madrid City Council (Spain) at the Residencia de Estudiantes, 2018–2019. This work received funding from the Santander-UCM 2018 project (ref. PR75/18-21613). This paper is dedicated to the memory of F. Mansilla Gómez.

Author information




J.R. had the initial suspicion about thrust faults on Ceres, designed the study and wrote the first draft of the manuscript. F.M. prepared the image mosaics. F.M and M.K. prepared topographic models. A.J.-D., F.M., L.M.P. and I.E.-G. performed the first-round survey on the Dawn imagery. J.R., A.J.-D., F.M., L.M.P. and I.E.-G. contributed to the final survey and to the examination and validation of candidate thrust faults. L.M.P. compiled and systematized the results. I.E.-G. performed the thrust orientation and crater density analyses. A.J.-D., F.M., L.M.P., I.E.-G. and J.R. designed and produced the figures. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Javier Ruiz.

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Peer review information: Nature Astronomy thanks Christian Klimczak and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–9, Supplementary Table 1, Supplementary references.

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Ruiz, J., Jiménez-Díaz, A., Mansilla, F. et al. Evidence of thrust faulting and widespread contraction of Ceres. Nat Astron 3, 916–921 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41550-019-0803-2

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