NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, which has been orbiting dwarf planet Ceres for nearly two years, has detected organic molecules, the building blocks of life, on Ceres’ surface.
Dawn’s visible and infrared mapping spectrometer instrument found the organic molecules in two locations–the 385-square mile (1,000 square km) region around Ceres’ Ernutet Crater and inside the much smaller 250-mile (400 km) Inamahari Crater.
Ernutet Crater is about 33 miles (53 km) wide.
Because Dawn searched for organic molecules only in the latitudes between 60 degrees north and 60 degrees south, there could be other places outside this area that also contain organics.
“We cannot exclude that there are other locations rich in organics not sampled by the survey, or below the detection limit,” Maria Cristina De Sanctis of the Institute for Space Astrophysics and Space Planetology in Rome told the website Space.com.
While Dawn’s instruments can determine the signatures of these organic molecules, as these signatures resemble tar-like substances kerite and asphaltite, they do not have the capability of identifying the molecules.
However, scientists can tell the organic molecules are native to Ceres and were not brought there by impacting comets or asteroids.
“The organic-rich areas include carbonate and ammoniated species, which are ...