A Dwarf Planet in our Solar System is ‘Rich in Organic Matter’ Says NASA

NASA Spacecraft finds evidence of a carbon-rich surface on dwarf planet Ceres.

NASA has announced that Ceres, one of the many dwarf planets in our solar system is rich in organic matter.

According to researchers at NASA, Ceres is like a ‘Chemical Factory’, home to the same ingredients that helped life spring into existence on Earth.

Studying the dwarf planet could help us reveal how various processes here on Earth resulted in the creation of life.

Notable geological features on Ceres. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Notable geological features on Ceres. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Ceres is a cosmic body that orbits the sun in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The planet itself is thought to be around 4.6 billion years old, meaning that it most likely originated at the same time as our solar system.

A team led by Southwest Research Institute has found that the dwarf planet’s surface is rich in organic matter.

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Data from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft suggests that Ceres’s surface may contain several times the concentration of carbon than is present in the most carbon-rich, primitive meteorites found on Earth.

"Bright Spot 5" in the crater Occator. Imaged by Dawn from 385 km (239 mi) (LAMO). Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
“Bright Spot 5” in the crater Occator. Imaged by Dawn from 385 km (239 mi) (LAMO). Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

“Ceres is like a chemical factory,” explained SwRI’s Dr. Simone Marchi, a principal scientist who was the lead author of research published in Nature Astronomy.

“Among inner solar system bodies, Ceres’ has a unique mineralogy, which appears to contain up to 20 percent carbon by mass in its near surface. Our analysis shows that carbon-rich compounds are intimately mixed with products of rock-water interactions, such as clays.”

In previous studies, scientists have reported that data gathered by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has revealed the presence of water and other volatiles, such as ammonium derived from ammonia, as well as a high concentration of carbon.

SwRI scientists constructed a possible schematic path for the evolution of Ceres’ upper crust. The figure shows the presence of carbonaceous chondrite-like materials (black) mixed with products of aqueous alteration such as phyllosilicates, carbonates and magnetite (green) and organics (orange). Shaded blue regions indicate water, and blue lines represent conduits for water migration. Organics may have formed in place during aqueous alteration or could have been concentrated by fluids ascending to the upper crust, resulting in the inferred higher-than-chondritic carbon concentration on Ceres’ surface. Over time, the surface gets homogenized by mixing due to collisions and other processes. Image Credit: SwRI.
SwRI scientists constructed a possible schematic path for the evolution of Ceres’ upper crust. The figure shows the presence of carbonaceous chondrite-like materials (black) mixed with products of aqueous alteration such as phyllosilicates, carbonates, and magnetite (green) and organics (orange). Shaded blue regions indicate water, and blue lines represent conduits for water migration. Organics may have formed in place during aqueous alteration or could have been concentrated by fluids ascending to the upper crust, resulting in the inferred higher-than-chondritic carbon concentration on Ceres’ surface. Over time, the surface gets homogenized by mixing due to collisions and other processes. Image Credit: SwRI.

These details have led scientists to conclude that Ceres most likely originated in a very cold environment, perhaps somewhere outside of Jupiter’s orbit.

Data from Ceres could help scientists understand how planets like Earth came into existence, as well as answer one of the most important questions about life: What exactly laid the necessary foundation for the life that is there today.

Image Credit: NASA Science.
Image Credit: NASA Science.

“With these findings, Ceres has gained a pivotal role in assessing the origin, evolution, and distribution of organic species across the inner solar system,” Marchi said.

“One has to wonder about how this world may have driven organic chemistry pathways, and how these processes may have affected the makeup of larger planets like the Earth.”

Source
SwRI
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