Ceres: Our “Third Extraterrestrial Home” After the Moon and Mars

Ceres is the most water-rich planet in the solar system after Earth, allowing it to provide habitats for life. That makes it our third extraterrestrial home after the Moon and Mars.

Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, is 27% the size and 1.3% the mass of the Moon. Its gravity is equal to 3% of Earth’s acceleration. Is it really beneficial to humanity?

Ceres our “third option”
Discovered on January 1, 1801 thanks to Giuseppe Piazzi at the Astronomical Observatory of Palermo in Sicily. Its orbital radius is 2.77 times greater than the Earth-Sun separation and its orbital period around the Sun is 4.6 years.

A day lasts only 9 hours and 4 minutes. According to data from NASA’s Dawn, there is virtually no seasonal variation in sunlight with latitude.

The water ice in its regolith varies from about 10% at polar latitudes to much drier levels at the equator. In total, it is made up of about half water by volume compared to 0.1% on Earth and 73% rock by mass. Its geology is determined by ice.

Ceres is also the most water-rich planet in the solar system after Earth. Any pockets of salt water below its surface could provide habitats for life.

Its maximum surface temperature is -38 degrees Celsius which is similar to the winter temperature of the Antarctic coast. Although it is higher than Europa and Enceladus, Saturn’s icy moons both have underground oceans.

It has long-lived radioactive isotopes that help preserve liquid water below its surface for extended periods of time which can lead to organic chemistry. Organic compounds have been detected in the Ernutet crater.

Some compounds similar to those found on Enceladus, such as carbonates, hydrated silicates and ammonium chloride, were detected on the surface.

A 2018 paper concluded that although life underground faces challenges, they can be overcome. It is estimated that the number of these worlds could outnumber habitable rocky planets by a few orders of magnitude creating some of the most abundant habitats for life.

A new habitable world
In August 2020, NASA confirmed that Ceres is a water-rich body with a deep reservoir of brine penetrating the surface in several places, causing “bright spots”. This includes the Occator crater as seen in the Dawn spacecraft image.

This would confirm that Ceres could be the next destination for a human base after the Moon and Mars.

To make Ceres habitable, domes must be built over its craters. Inside, the temperature would gradually rise and organic molecules would be introduced creating an Earth-like environment. Water would be collected from the surface and used for irrigation and gaseous oxygen could be treated.

There are many advantages to settling on Ceres. The base is rich in resources including ice water, organic molecules and ammonia. Its surface receives about 150 watts per square meter of solar radiation, or about one-ninth that of Earth.

This clean energy supply rate is high enough that the facility can operate exclusively on solar energy.

It could become the transport hub for future asteroid mining infrastructure capable of transporting minerals to Mars, the Moon and Earth. Its low escape velocity, along with its large supply of water ice, could transform rocket fuel, water and oxygen gas for spacecraft traversing the asteroid belt.

However, experts say that other forms of life that preceded us can also be found in its groundwater.

Ceres could arguably become humanity’s third option for colonizing the solar system. With its advantages and risks, it would be an ideal place for our expansion as a species.

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