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NASA Probe Discovers 'Salty Water' Beneath Surface of Dwarf Planet

This mosaic image uses false color to highlight the recently exposed brine, or salty liquids, that were pushed up from a deep reservoir under Ceres' crust. In this view of a region of Occator Crater, they appear reddish. (Credits: NASA)

The U.S. space agency, NASA says that says it believes it has discovered salty water beneath the surface of the dwarf planet, Ceres, in orbit around the sun in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

The space agency's Dawn spacecraft gathered up-close views of the dwarf planet - smaller than the earth’s moon - before ending its mission in October 2018. At one point, Dawn dipped down to just 35 kilometers above Ceres’s surface.

Those up-close views revealed "mysterious bright regions", which scientists later concluded to be deposits of sodium carbonate from liquid that likely filtered up to the surface and evaporated, leaving behind a reflective salty crust.

In a study published Monday in the journal Nature Astronomy, NASA Scientists said, after studying the images and data sent back from the probe, they concluded the liquid came from a deep reservoir of salt-enriched water, about 40 kilometers deep and hundreds of kilometers wide.

The Dawn spacecraft was launched in September 2007 with a mission to shed light on the early solar system.

It explored the two largest bodies. After studying giant asteroid "Vesta", Dawn arrived at dwarf planet "Ceres" in 2015. The scientists' research focused on the 92-kilometer-wide "Occator Crater".

In October 2018, NASA called time on the Dawn mission, after the spacecraft ran out of its key fuel, hydrazine. NASA says it will remain in orbit of Ceres for decades.

Dawn remains the only spacecraft to ever orbit two extraterrestrial destinations.