Some clues have been discovered that point to the possible existence of material essential to life in a crater of Ceres, the largest celestial body in the asteroid belt. This material may even be native to the planet.
NASA’s Dawn name mission found evidence of organic material on Ceres, a dwarf planet located in the asteroid belt that orbits the Sun between Mars and Jupiter. This material, which is composed of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur, potassium and other residual elements, was found around the Ernutet crater in the planet’s northern hemisphere.
The celestial body Ceres, is not the first of its kind, where scientists have already found organic material off the Earth: similar compounds have already been discovered in various meteorites and asteroids. Although there are no conclusions as to the origin and precise composition of the organic material found in Ceres, the largest body of the asteroid belt, it is well known that this planet shares many characteristics with a group of meteorites called very rich carbonaceous chondrites in water. However, Ceres is special, according to Maria Cristina De Sanctis, an astrophysicist at the National Institute of Astrophysics in Rome, who is involved in NASA’s discovery, “this is the first clear detection of organic molecules in orbit in a main body of the belt”.
In some of the bodies bearing organic material, these compounds are thought to have reached the celestial body after a meteorite collision, but this may not be the case with Ceres, explains NASA in a press release. There is evidence that the material found in the Ernutet crater is native to the planet: “The carbonates and clays previously identified in Ceres provide evidence of chemical activity in the presence of water and heat. This raises the possibility that the organics have been processed in a similar way in a hot, water-rich environment”.
Thus, this dwarf planet was on the radar of scientists because they had already been found in it hydrated minerals, carbonates, ice and even clays.
There is also the possibility that Ceres may have had life in the distant past, the existence of water and organic material is essential to life, although the existence of these elements is not enough for the development of living beings. Still, Ceres can be a good tool for understanding the “origins of water and organic matter on Earth”.