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Scientists find naturally occurring organic compounds on Ceres

Scientists find naturally occurring organic compounds on Ceres

Feb. 16 (UPI) -- All of the basic ingredients necessary for life can be found on the surface of Ceres, the dwarf planet found between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Now, new research suggests organic compounds found on Ceres are naturally occurring, born of geochemical processes hiding beneath Ceres' surface.

"This discovery of a locally high concentration of organics is intriguing, with broad implications for the astrobiology community," Simone Marchi, a senior research scientist at Southwest Research Institute, said in a news release. "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."

Researchers used Dawn's visible and infrared mapping spectrometer to analyze the distribution of organics on Ceres. Though observations revealed a high concentration of organic matter near Ernutet, a large crater in Ceres' northern hemisphere, the overall distribution was not correlated with any one crater or depression. Scientists found organics spread across both young, fresh craters and old, degraded craters

The findings -- detailed in the journal Science -- suggest impacts to Cere's surface may have revealed the dwarf planet's organic compounds, but they didn't supply them.

"The overall region is heavily cratered and appears to be ancient; however, the rims of Ernutet crater appear to be relatively fresh," Marchi explained. "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."

Previous studies have highlighted significant hydrothermal activity on Ceres, lending credence to the hypothesis that the dwarf planet's organics are internally produced.