Alien world Ceres continues to baffle astronomers, exceeding al expectations. NASA’s Dawn mission has found evidence for organic material on the dwarf planet—the largest body in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Dawn spacecraft’s instruments detected an unusually high concentration of organic material in the Northern hemisphere of Ceres.
The organic-rich area—containing large amount of aliphatic carbons—was identified in the Northern hemisphere of Ceres, near the Ernutet Crater.
An international group of scientists has announced—in the journal Science—one of the most important discoveries based on data gathered by the Dawn mission.
Furthermore, researchers are almost convinced that Organic material was formed inside the alien world, and did not reach it by the impact of asteroids or comets.
As reported by New Scientist, organic material wouldn’t have survived the heat of an impact on the surface of Ceres. Furthermore, if the material had hitched a ride on another stellar object, they would be widely dispersed, rather than concentrated in pockets. That means they must have come from Ceres itself.
The discovery opens several doors: like the possibility of life developing there—although other elements are necessary for life—and expands the list of places in the Solar System that could – and perhaps still harbor alien life. Alfredo Carpineti from IFL Science writes: “The type of organic materials found includes methane and several types of common hydrocarbons, which are of importance as they are considered to be the precursor molecules to amino acids, the building blocks of life.”
The team, led by Maria Cristina De Sanctis of the National Institute of Astrophysics in Italy, used the spacecraft’s visible and infrared mapping spectrometer to observe the surface of Ceres.
The instrument detected an unusually high concentration of organic matter, carbon-based components that could be part of the chemistry that creates life.
Although the data is not sufficient to determine exactly which molecular compounds are present, they coincide with tar-like minerals, such as asphaltites. Ceres is also rich in ammonia, carbonates, salts, and water ice.
Even though the discovery may sound like evidence of the building blocks for life, scientists are still unwilling to go that far.
“This is the first time that this signature has been seen so clearly on an asteroid and other airless bodies,” lead author Maria Chiara De Sanctis said in a press briefing from the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF). “Organics have also been seen on comets, but it was not easily identifiable with a specific kind of organic.”
Michael Küppers from the European Space Agency said: “A couple of decades ago, when talking about life in the solar system, we were focused on Mars. And now, we are more and more looking at other locations, like Saturn’s moon Titan and the subsurfaces of places like [Jupiter’s moon] Europa.”