quote:HINTS OF LIFE? Organic matter has been detected on Ceres, shown, suggesting the dwarf planet hosts the building blocks of life.
Dwarf planet Ceres contains the necessary ingredients for life, new data suggest.
NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has detected organic compounds on Ceres — the first concrete proof of organics on an object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. This material probably originated on the dwarf planet itself, the researchers report in the Feb. 17 Science. The discovery of organic compounds, the building blocks of life, adds to the growing body of evidence that Ceres may have once had a habitable environment.
“We’ve come to recognize that Ceres has a lot of characteristics that are intriguing for those looking at how life starts,” says Andy Rivkin, a planetary astronomer at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., who was not involved in the study.
CRATER CACHE Most of the organic compounds on Ceres have been found near the Ernutet crater, outlined in white. Purple areas indicate low concentrations of organics, and the spots of orange and yellow show higher abundance.
The team suspects that the organics formed within Ceres’ interior and were brought to the surface by hydrothermal activity. An alternative idea — that a space rock that crashed into Ceres brought the material — is unlikely, the researchers say, because the concentration of organics is so high. An impact would have mixed organic compounds across the surface, diluting the concentration.
Detecting organics on Ceres also has implications for how life arose on Earth, McSween says. Some researchers think that life was jump-started by asteroids and other space rocks that delivered organic compounds to the planet. Finding such organic matter on Ceres “adds some credence to that idea,” he says.
They don't know yet what organics are involved or how biotic or prebiotic they are.
Ceres (/ˈsɪəriːz/; minor-planet designation: 1 Ceres) is the largest object in the asteroid belt that lies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Its diameter is approximately 945 kilometers (587 miles), making it the largest of the minor planets within the orbit of Neptune. The 33rd-largest known body in the Solar System, it is the only dwarf planet within the orbit of Neptune.[c] Composed of rock and ice, Ceres is estimated to compose approximately one third of the mass of the entire asteroid belt. Ceres is the only object in the asteroid belt known to be rounded by its own gravity (though detailed analysis was required to exclude 4 Vesta). From Earth, the apparent magnitude of Ceres ranges from 6.7 to 9.3, and hence even at its brightest, it is too dim to be seen with the naked eye, except under extremely dark skies.
Ceres appears to be differentiated into a rocky core and icy mantle, and may have a remnant internal ocean of liquid water under the layer of ice. The surface is probably a mixture of water ice and various hydrated minerals such as carbonates and clay. In January 2014, emissions of water vapor were detected from several regions of Ceres. This was unexpected, because large bodies in the asteroid belt typically do not emit vapor, a hallmark of comets.
The robotic NASA spacecraft Dawn entered orbit around Ceres on 6 March 2015.