Dome formation on Ceres by solid-state flow analogous to terrestrial salt tectonics


The dwarf planet Ceres's outer crust is a complex, heterogeneous mixture of ice, clathrates, salts and silicates. Numerous large domes on Ceres's surface indicate a degree of geological activity. These domes have been attributed to cryovolcanism, but that is difficult to reconcile with Ceres's small size and lack of long-lived heat sources. Here we alternatively propose that Ceres's domes form by solid-state flow within the compositionally heterogeneous crust, a mechanism directly analogous to salt tectonics on Earth. We use numerical simulations to illustrate that differential loading of a crust with compositional heterogeneity on a scale of tens of kilometres can produce dome-like features of scale similar to those observed. The mechanism requires the presence of low-viscosity and low-density, possibly ice-rich, material in the upper 1-10 km of the subsurface. Such substantial regional heterogeneity in Ceres's crustal composition is consistent with observations from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Dawn mission. We conclude that deformation analogous to that in terrestrial salt tectonics is a viable alternative explanation for the observed surface morphologies, and is consistent with Ceres being both cold and geologically active.