Let’s talk about a certain dwarf planet. No, not Pluto. We’ll save that for Pluto month. Right now, we’re talking about Ceres.
Someday, perhaps someday soon, humanity will start spreading across the Solar System. When we do, the dwarf planet Ceres could become an important part of our interplanetary infrastructure.
Ceres has been in the news a lot lately (almost as much as Pluto). During a recent visit by the Dawn spacecraft, we discovered some surprising features:
- A single, lonely mountain in the midst of an otherwise flat landscape.
- An unidentified white substance (water ice?) in the basins of several craters.
- Plumes of water vapor escaping into space, hinting at possible subsurface oceans.
Even if Ceres doesn’t have vast oceans of liquid water beneath its surface, evidence suggests it at least has plenty of water ice. Water in any form is an incredibly valuable resource for space travelers, and not only for the obvious reasons.
Water can be used for:
- Drinking (obviously).
- Washing (obviously).
- Oxygen: through electrolysis, water can be separated into oxygen and hydrogen, providing a spaceship’s crew with breathable air.
- Rocket fuel: hydrogen and oxygen, cryogenically stored in liquid forms, make excellent rocket fuel.
- Radiation shielding: water is surprisingly good at blocking solar and cosmic radiation. Well positioned water tanks on a spaceship’s exterior could do a lot to protect the crew.
A colony (or at least an outpost) on Ceres could serve as a convenient refueling depot for spacecraft heading out beyond the asteroid belt or for valiant explorers returning to the inner Solar System. A watering hole in space, if you will.
At the very least, it could make a fun setting for a Sci-Fi story.