The Dawn spacecraft of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) have detected organic-rich areas on Ceres, a dwarf planet located between Mars and Jupiter. According to the scientists, these organics are native to the dwarf planet.
In the findings, published in the journal Science, these organics most likely came from the interior of the dwarf planet. This implies that they came from asteroids or comets that impact its surface.
“This discovery of a locally high concentration of organics is intriguing, with broad implications for the astrobiology community,” explains study author Simone Marchi, a senior research scientist at Southwest Research Institute. “Ceres has evidence of ammonia-bearing hydrated minerals, water ice, carbonates, salts, and now organic materials. With this new finding Dawn has shown that Ceres contains key ingredients for life.”
According to the scientists, studying these organics can help them understand Ceres’s origin, evolution as well as the distribution of organic species in the solar system. It is believed that the dwarf planet was formed around 4.5 billion years ago, during the early years of the solar system.
The spacecraft’s visible and infrared mapping spectrometer reveals that the dwarf planet has a very high concentration of organic matter located near the Ernutet crater. This crater is located in the northern hemisphere of the dwarf planet and is estimated to be about 50 kilometers in diameter.
Moreover, the data also reveals that the organic matter’s distribution and characteristics may not be associated with any single crater. Dawn also shows that the largest concentration of organics seems to drape irregularly across the crater’s southwest floor and rim. This can also be found in the older, weathered crater.
The research team also says that the organics can also be located to the northwest. The rims of Ernutet seem new. “The overall region is heavily cratered and appears to be ancient; however, the rims of Ernutet crater appear to be relatively fresh,” points out Marchi. “The organic-rich areas include carbonate and ammoniated species, which are clearly Ceres’ endogenous material, making it unlikely that the organics arrived via an external impactor.”
According to the experts, the dwarf planet seems to have hydrothermal activity, aqueous alteration, and fluid mobility. These internal processes could have lead to the formation of the organic-rich areas. Nevertheless, further research is still necessary and the Dawn scientists will keep on investigating Ceres so they could also determine the best way to move the material from the planet’s interior out to the surface.