Research Article

Distribution of phyllosilicates on the surface of Ceres

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Science  02 Sep 2016:
Vol. 353, Issue 6303,
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf4279

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Structured Abstract


The surface of the dwarf planet Ceres is known to host phyllosilicate minerals, but their distribution and origin have not previously been determined. Phyllosilicates are hydrated silicates, and their presence on the surface of Ceres is intriguing given that their structure evolves through an aqueous alteration process. In addition, some phyllosilicates are known to bear NH4, which places a constraint on the pH and redox conditions during the evolution of Ceres. We studied the distribution of phyllosilicates across the planet’s surface to better understand the evolutionary pathway of Ceres.


Using the data acquired by the mapping spectrometer (VIR) onboard the Dawn spacecraft, we mapped the spatial distribution of different minerals on Ceres on the basis of their diagnostic absorption features in visible and infrared spectra. We studied the phyllosilicates through their OH-stretch fundamental absorption at about 2.7 µm and through the NH4 absorption at about 3.1 µm. From our composition maps, we infer the origin of the materials identified.


We found that Mg- and NH4-bearing phyllosilicates are ubiquitous across the surface of Ceres and that their chemical composition is fairly uniform. The widespread presence of these two types of minerals is a strong indication of a global and extensive aqueous alteration—i.e., the presence of water at some point in Ceres’ geological history. Although the detected phyllosilicates are compositionally homogeneous, we found variations in the intensity of their absorption features in the 3-µm region of the reflectance spectrum. Such variations are likely due to spatial variability in relative mineral abundance (see the figure).


The large-scale regional variations evident in the figure suggest lateral heterogeneity in surficial phyllosilicate abundance on scales of several hundreds of kilometers. Terrains associated with the Kerwan crater (higher concentration of phyllosilicates) appear smooth, whereas the Yalode crater (lower concentration of phyllosilicates) is characterized by both smooth and rugged terrains. These distinct morphologies and phyllosilicate concentrations observed in two craters that are similar in size may reflect different compositions and/or rheological properties. On top of this large-scale lateral heterogeneity, small-scale variations associated with individual craters could result from different proportions of mixed materials in a stratified upper crustal layer that has been exposed by impacts. Variations associated with fresh craters, such as the 34-km-diameter Haulani, indicate the presence of crustal variations over a vertical scale of a few kilometers, whereas much larger craters, such as the 126-km-diameter Dantu, suggest that such stratification may extend for at least several tens of kilometers.

Abundance maps.

Qualitative maps of the abundances of (top) phyllosilicates and (bottom) NH4, based on the depth of their absorption features. The two maps have a similar global pattern, although they differ in some localized regions such as Urvara. The scale bar is valid at the equator.


The dwarf planet Ceres is known to host phyllosilicate minerals at its surface, but their distribution and origin have not previously been determined. We used the spectrometer onboard the Dawn spacecraft to map their spatial distribution on the basis of diagnostic absorption features in the visible and near-infrared spectral range (0.25 to 5.0 micrometers). We found that magnesium- and ammonium-bearing minerals are ubiquitous across the surface. Variations in the strength of the absorption features are spatially correlated and indicate considerable variability in the relative abundance of the phyllosilicates, although their composition is fairly uniform. These data, along with the distinctive spectral properties of Ceres relative to other asteroids and carbonaceous meteorites, indicate that the phyllosilicates were formed endogenously by a globally widespread and extensive alteration process.

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