A new study has found that there may be an abundant amount of organic material present on the surface of the dwarf planet Ceres than previously estimated by NASA scientists.
NASA’s Dawn space probe discovered the presence of carbon compounds in Ceres’ asteroid belt back in 2017. The researchers made use of the Visible and Infrared (VIR) Spectrometer on the Dawn spacecraft, which went into orbit around the dwarf planet in 2015. The discovery made experts predict that the presence of these carbon compounds could be a sign that Ceres is better suited for supporting life.
While the mere presence of carbon compounds doesn’t mean that life exists on Ceres, the discovery does add to the dwarf planets’ potential habitability.
According to the study conducted by a team of researchers at the Brown University, NASA has underestimated the presence of carbon compounds on Ceres.
“What this paper show is that you can get really different results depending upon the type of organic material you use to compare with and interpret the Ceres data,” said Hannah Kaplan, the lead researcher of the study.
Hannah and his team made use of extraterrestrial meteorites as the go-to comparison standard. On re-analyzing the space agency’s data, it was found that Ceres, which has an abundant amount of frozen water, contains a higher amount of organic matter, almost four to five times more than NASA’s previous assumptions. The findings suggest that the organic material was likely delivered by an organic-rich comet or asteroid.
Kaplan added that the discovery is important not only for Ceres but also for missions that will soon explore asteroids that may also contain organic material.
The study findings have been published under the title “New Constraints on the Abundance and Composition of Organic Matter on Ceres” in the scientific journal Geophysical Research Letters.