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Space & Astronomy

Ceres turns out to be rich in organic matter

By T.K. Randall
June 15, 2018 · Comment icon 13 comments



Ceres has proven to be a fascinating place. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Scientists have revealed that the building blocks of life are far more common on Ceres than previously believed.
The original discovery of organic matter on the dwarf planet Ceres was made last year, but now a new analysis of data from NASA's Dawn spacecraft has indicated that these carbon-based compounds are actually a lot more abundant on the surface than the previous research had suggested.

Exactly how this organic matter ended up there however remains unclear.

"What this paper shows 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 study leader Hannah Kaplan.

"That's important not only for Ceres, but also for missions that will soon explore asteroids that may also contain organic material."
While the presence of organic molecules on Ceres does not necessarily mean that life has developed there, it does offer clues as to how this material has been distributed around the solar system.

While it is likely that the organic matter on Ceres was deposited there by comets or asteroids, there is also the possibility that it was actually produced there through some currently unknown process.

"If the organics are made on Ceres, then you likely still need a mechanism to concentrate it in these specific locations or at least to preserve it in these spots," said study co-author Ralph Milliken.

"It's not clear what that mechanism might be. Ceres is clearly a fascinating object, and understanding the story and origin of organics in these spots and elsewhere on Ceres will likely require future missions that can analyze or return samples."

Source: Brown University | Comments (13)


Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #4 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 5 years ago
Not true. In chemistry organic means carbon based chemistry. It does not necessarily have any connection to life.
Comment icon #5 Posted by danydandan 5 years ago
So it literally means everything carbon based, regardless if it's multicellular or not? Didn't know that, thanks. I always thought organic meant life, but I suppose that meaning is an extrapolation of the terms meaning in chemistry considering all life is carbon based on Earth.
Comment icon #6 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 5 years ago
When carbon chemistry was named "organic" chemistry back in the Victorian era it was believed that all organic molecules were the result of life. Now it is know that organic molecules, even complex ones, can be formed independent of life. Unfortunately the very name organic leads to, unsurprising and understandable, confusion. 
Comment icon #7 Posted by Chortle 5 years ago
Thanks for the above so for the lay person its essentially "we found something that contains carbon". Which may sound unexciting, but actually is significant given carbon is a building block of all life we are aware of. So what is everything else categorised under if its not organic matter? If I wanted to Google/Wiki this could you advise what I'm am I looking for?
Comment icon #8 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 5 years ago
The two main branches of chemistry are organic for nearly all carbon containing molecules  (there are a few exceptions but I can't remember what they are at the moment) and inorganic for everything else. Such is the versatility of organic molecules that they hugely outnumber all the inorganics.
Comment icon #9 Posted by Chortle 5 years ago
That's great thanks for the pointer!
Comment icon #10 Posted by AustinHinton 5 years ago
Comment icon #11 Posted by Unanimous 5 years ago
dont expect much, as life on earth got lucky when the first merging happened on accident. the chances of life developing like us is extremly low, and what makes us unique is we have emotions, which can be a factor for our decisions. anger stimulates agressive thoughts, and sadness processes negative thoughts, and when were calm, we can process thoughts based on info. if youre calm right now, think about what youre curious about then develop your thinking by trying to improve it or back it up. youll end up with alot more than what you started. carbon is a building block, a factor of life, and n... [More]
Comment icon #12 Posted by paperdyer 5 years ago
The pigment, carbon black, is made by burning oil or gas in a chamber, then scraping the soot from the chamber, making it an organic pigment. Nothing alive about that, I hope.
Comment icon #13 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 5 years ago
Except that the oil or gas were almost certainly produced by the decay of living organisms, so not really a good example of organic chemistry without the involvement of life.


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