I set off an interesting conversation with a neighbor when organic material was detected on Ceres, as announced last year by scientists using data from the ongoing Dawn mission. To many people, ‘organics’ is a word synonymous with ‘life,’ which isn’t the case, and straightening that matter out involved explaining that organics are carbon-based compounds that life can build on. But organic molecules can also emerge from completely non-biological processes.
So with that caveat in mind about this word, it’s still interesting that organics appear on Ceres, especially since water ice is common there, and we know of water’s key role in living systems. A new paper looks again at data from Dawn, whose detections were made with infrared spectroscopy using its Visible and Infrared (VIR) Spectrometer. The instrument, examining which wavelengths are reflected off Ceres’ surface and which are absorbed, detected organic molecules in the region dominated by Ernutet Crater on Ceres’ northern hemisphere.
Image: Last year, the Dawn spacecraft spied organic material on the dwarf planet Ceres, largest denizen of the asteroid belt. A new analysis suggests those organics could be more plentiful than originally thought. Credit: NASA / Rendering by Hannah Kaplan.
The paper’s lead author is ...