The dwarf planet Ceres’s outer crust is a complex, heterogeneous mixture of ice, clathrates, salts and silicates. Numerous large domes on Ceres’s surface indicate a degree of geological activity. These domes have been attributed to cryovolcanism, but that is difficult to reconcile with Ceres’s small size and lack of long-lived heat sources. Here we alternatively propose that Ceres’s domes form by solid-state flow within the compositionally heterogeneous crust, a mechanism directly analogous to salt tectonics on Earth. We use numerical simulations to illustrate that differential loading of a crust with compositional heterogeneity on a scale of tens of kilometres can produce dome-like features of scale similar to those observed. The mechanism requires the presence of low-viscosity and low-density, possibly ice-rich, material in the upper 1–10 km of the subsurface. Such substantial regional heterogeneity in Ceres’s crustal composition is consistent with observations from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Dawn mission. We conclude that deformation analogous to that in terrestrial salt tectonics is a viable alternative explanation for the observed surface morphologies, and is consistent with Ceres being both cold and geologically active.
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All data used in the study are available in NASA’s Planetary Data System archive (Small Bodies Node: https://pds-smallbodies.astro.umd.edu/).
The original Tekton2.3 source code used in the simulations presented is no longer publicly available. Please contact the corresponding author for additional information.
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This work was supported by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA’s) Dawn Guest Investigator Program (grant no. NNH15AZ85I). Some of the research was carried out at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with NASA. Special thanks to the Dawn mission operations team, who have gone above and beyond to return exceptional data from Ceres. Any use of trade, firm or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the US Government.
The authors declare no competing interests.
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Bland, M.T., Buczkowski, D.L., Sizemore, H.G. et al. Dome formation on Ceres by solid-state flow analogous to terrestrial salt tectonics. Nat. Geosci. 12, 797–801 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-019-0453-0
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