It's A Rather Strange Kind of Mountain

Located on the center of a dwarf planet in the Solar System's asteroid belt, there's something that most of us would have never dreamed of: A briny-lava-spitting volcano...that erupts with ice?

It's Ahuna Mons, and new research suggests that it is a rather cold volcano (and that's putting it mildly).

To back up a bit, this 13,000-foot volcano has been studied for many years, ever since NASA's Ceres-orbiting Dawn spacecraft first laid its eyes on the dwarf planet. In the past, Ahuna Mons was identified as a regular mountain—but as further research showed no presence of any tectonic origin, possibilities of cryovolcanism started to arise.

"Ahuna is truly unique, being the only mountain of its kind on Ceres," said David Williams, an associate research professor in Arizona State University's School of Earth and Space Exploration. "It shows nothing to indicate a tectonic formation, so that led us to consider cryovolcanism as a method for its origin."

As you may know, Cryovolcanism is a form of low-temperature volcanic activity, where volcanoes spew out cold, molten ice rather than hot, liquid rock. This process can be largely observed in the farthest parts of the solar system, as the extremely low temperatures there prevent classic Earth-like volcanoes to ever arise.

Researchers suggest that repeated eruptions of this freezing slurry of salt have built the Ahuna Mons we know of today.

Seeing An Icy Eruption

With the dwarf planet slowly approaching its closest pass of the sun, which will come at around April 2018, scientists can't wait to observe how the planet will react with the sudden increase in light and heat—asking the question: Will the heat trigger a burst of volcanic activity? 

"We hope that by observing Ceres as it approaches perihelion, we might see some active venting. This would be an ideal way to end the mission," said Williams.

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