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article imageDwarf planet Ceres contains organic material and possibly life

By Arthur Weinreb     Feb 18, 2017 in Science
A recently published study reveals scientists have detected carbon-based materials on the dwarf planet Ceres. These organic molecules are considered to be the building blocks of life on Earth and it is possible life exists on the dwarf planet.
Ceres is a dwarf planet located in the asteroid belt found between Mars and Jupiter. The largest object between the two planets, it is about the size of Texas and 590 miles in diameter. Ceres was formed about 4.5 billion years ago.
NASA’s Dawn spacecraft was launched in 2007 and has been orbiting Ceres for almost two years. The spacecraft contains a Viable or InfraRed Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) that is able to detect organic materials on the planet's surface. Other materials such as water and salts were detected on Ceres in the past.
SEE ALSO: NASA Dawn Mission reveals dwarf planet Ceres with crystal clarity
Instruments aboard Dawn are able to detect light coming from the dwarf planet’s surface. As different molecules absorb different frequencies of light, specific molecules can be detected by the VIMS aboard Dawn while the probe is orbiting Ceres.
Area where organic materials were found on Ceres. The warmer the colour  the higher the concentratio...
Area where organic materials were found on Ceres. The warmer the colour, the higher the concentration.
building blocks of life were discovered in Ernutet, a 32-mile wide crater.
Simone Marchi, one of the authors of the recently published study, said, “Ceres has evidence of ammonia-bearing hydrated minerals, waters, ice, carbonates, salt and now organic materials.” She added, “Dawn has shown Ceres contains key ingredients for life.”
Scientists who conducted the study found these materials are native to Ceres and did not arrive on the dwarf planet as a result of comet or asteroid strikes. Marchi said, heat generated by the impact of asteroids or comets would have likely destroyed organic materials, not created them.
Is there life on Ceres?
The fact these organic materials were found does not necessarily mean there is life on the dwarf planet. Ceres has a thin atmosphere and its surface temperatures range from minus 100 to minus 250 degrees Fahrenheit. But life may be found beneath the surface. Michael Kὒppers, a scientist with the European Space Agency who was not involved in the study, said because Ceres is a dwarf, it may still be cooling. Internal heat from Ceres’ formation may still exist. It is possible there may be an ocean underneath the dwarf’s surface, making it possible life could have formed on Ceres.
Currently, there is no evidence there is life on Ceres but there is a possibility it exists.
How life on Earth was formed
Many scientists believe Earth was too hot to develop water and other building blocks of life and theorize these molecules were delivered to Earth by asteroids and comets. The fact these organic materials exist in the asteroid belt strengthens this theory. Further study of Ceres may lead to a better understanding of how life on Earth came into being.
Ceres is just the latest body in the solar system found to be capable of containing life. The dwarf planet joins Mars and some moons of Jupiter and Saturn as possibilities life exists on other bodies in the solar system. As Ceres is closer to Earth and warmer than the moons of those two planets, it will be easier to study the dwarf than the moons of the outer planets.
The study, Localized aliphatic organic material on the surface of Ceres, was published in the journal Science on Feb. 17.
More about Ceres, dwarf planet, life on other panets, NASA Dawn Mission, building blocks of life
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