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NASA Dawn Discovered Organic Molecules on Asteroid Ceres

Feb 22, 2017 10:30 AM EST
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Exoplanets are not the only objects in the universe where building blocks of life could potentially be discovered. Some interesting satellites such as the moon Titan is also believed to possess the right chemistry to cater to life. And now, even asteroids are targets in the search for organic molecules.

Recent studies show that asteroid Ceres potentially holds organic molecules believed to be building blocks of life. Ceres, being the largest object in the asteroid belt is considered a dwarf planet.

Ceres is believed to hold massive underground ice sheets and frozen oceans. The Italian National Institute for Astrophysics conducted a study using Visible and InfraRed Mapping Spectrometer aboard NASA's Dawn spacecraft to analyze Ceres. Researchers checked Ernutet, a crater on the dwarf planet. The researchers claimed that organic compounds believed to be a building block for life were discovered.

"This is the first time this signature has been seen so clearly on an asteroid," lead scientist Maria Cristina De Sanctis said in a statementAnother surprising part of the study is that researchers believe that the organic compound formed in Ceres itself and not likely transported from other objects and impact like comets.

However, the study needs further evidence and deeper investigations to determine the exact description of the molecule compound on Ceres. Initial data show that they organic compound could be a member of the methylene family.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory also confirmed that the Dawn Mission also found organic materials on Ceres.

"This is the first clear detection of organic molecules from orbit on a main belt body," said Maria Cristina De Sanctis, lead author of the study, based at the National Institute of Astrophysics, Rome, said in a press release.

This is not the first time organic molecules were discovered. According to NASA some meteorites also possess organic compounds. Telescopic observations helped scientists and astronomers in studying asteroids and meteorites. Ceres, being a huge asteroid shares some characteristics as meteorites.


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