Extraterrestrial Material May Have Lived On Ceres Once, Scientists Say

First Posted: Feb 17, 2017 03:23 AM EST

It seems that Ceres is doing its own home-brewing on the asteroid belt, as organic has been found on the dwarf planet recently. Scientists have a reason to believe that it was produced in-house.

With the help of the Dawn space probe, which has been orbiting the dwarf planet since 2015, it seems that there are pockets of carbon-based organic compounds on the surface of the rock, identified as tar-like minerals that at this point cannot be pinned down exactly. However, New Scientist reported that their mineral fingerprints match that of the make-up of kerite or asphaltite. These constituents and concentrations suggest that it is unlikely they came from another planetary body for a few reasons.

First, these materials would not have survived the heat of an impact on the surface of Ceres. If they did come from an external force, they should be widely dispersed, not concentrated in pockets. Chris Russell of the University of California, Los Angeles, and lead of the Dawn science team said, "It's not just an accumulation of rock, but in fact, it's been doing things." They added that the recent discoveries of water and ice point a complex picture of the planet than originally assumed.

Science News reported that the Dawn space probe actually previously detected salts, ammonia-rich clays and water ice on the dwarf planet. These indicate the possibility of hydrothermal activity.

Yet, these things are not enough for them to think that there is life on Ceres today. Although for life to start, there should also be carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen and a source energy. The presence of these on the dwarf planet may have made it habitable once, even though the team has not found any signs of such today.

This, however, changes people's perspective on where to find extraterrestrial life. "A couple of decades ago, when talking about life in the solar system, we were focused on Mars." Michael Küppers of the European Space Agency said, "And now, we are more and more looking at other locations, like Saturn's moon Titan and the subsurfaces of places like Europa, and now also Ceres in the asteroid belt."

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