Volume 95 Issue 8 | p. 9 | News of The Week
Issue Date: February 20, 2017 | Web Date: February 16, 2017

Organics found on dwarf planet Ceres

Dawn spacecraft’s discovery suggests chemistry needed to make life’s building blocks is widespread in solar system
Department: Science & Technology
News Channels: Analytical SCENE, Organic SCENE
Keywords: Ceres, Dawn, organics
[+]Enlarge
Researchers found aliphatic organics near the 50-km-wide Ernutet crater on Ceres.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA
A crater on Ceres
 
Researchers found aliphatic organics near the 50-km-wide Ernutet crater on Ceres.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Scientists have spotted aliphatic organic molecules across a large swath of the dwarf planet Ceres (Science 2017, DOI: 10.1126/science.aaj2305). The compounds were likely produced on Ceres itself, suggesting that the rich chemistry needed to create life’s building blocks exists throughout the solar system.

An international team led by Maria Cristina De Sanctis at the National Institute of Astrophysics in Rome, examined spectra taken by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, which has been orbiting Ceres since 2015. Ceres lies in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

The team found organics in a 1,000-sq-km area near the crater Ernutet. Dawn’s spectrometer isn’t sensitive enough to identify individual molecules, but the spectra it captured suggest substances rich in aliphatic carbon, such as the mineral asphaltite and kerite, a rubberlike compound.

Scientists have observed extraterrestrial organics on some solar system bodies, such as comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, Saturn’s moon Titan, and other asteroids. The new data from Ceres add another source of organics to the growing solar system list.

Sun Kwok, director of the Laboratory for Space Research at Hong Kong University, calls the work “exciting,” saying it confirms the widespread presence of complex organics in the solar system.

De Sanctis and her team also present evidence that the organics may have been produced on Ceres, rather than delivered via cometary impacts, a popular theory for how Earth was seeded with prebiotic compounds. The distribution of the organics across Ceres’s surface is broader than would be expected if they were generated by an impact, the researchers say. And the heat from such an impact would likely have destroyed the organics anyway.

The team hypothesizes that Ceres’s hydrothermal activity, combined with clay and ammonia-bearing hydrated minerals on the dwarf planet, produced the organics.

In a perspective accompanying the report, Michael Küppers at the European Space Agency notes that as a dwarf planet, Ceres may still harbor internal heat from its formation period and may even contain a subsurface ocean. “This opens the possibility that primitive life could have developed on Ceres itself,” he writes.

 
Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © American Chemical Society
Comments
Gokula Nadha. A (Sun Feb 19 22:55:44 EST 2017)
How life originated is a fascinating question. Where it originated is yet more fascinating to know. Countless dwarf planets and fragments at the verge of the solar system, a toppled down ice giant, a dwarf planet with organic remnants, the red planet where lakes and rivers existed once and so on. All these are unanswered questions within the Solar System. Human life span is too narrow to reveal all these mysteries.
Leave A Comment