Organics likely native to Ceres

The study of organic materials on dwarf planet Ceres could help astronomers learn more about the evolution of our Solar System.

This image taken by the Dawn spacecraft shows a region around the Ernutet crater where organic concentrations have been discovered. Color coding shows the surface concentration of organics.


Organic materials discovered on dwarf planet Ceres are likely native, according to research using data collected by the Dawn spacecraft.

Ceres is the largest body in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, which separates the inner and outer planets of our Solar System.

Ceres is thought to have originated about 4.5 billion years ago as our Solar System was forming. Studying its organics is useful in getting to the bottom of the origin and distribution of organic species across the Solar System.

In February 2017, NASA announced organic materials were discovered on the floor of the Ernutet Crater on Ceres, and that they were the same as those discovered on certain meteorites.


The Ernutet Crater measures about 52 kilometers in diameter and is located in Ceres’ northern hemisphere.


“Earlier research that focused on the geology of the organic-rich region on Ceres were inconclusive about their origin,” says Dr. Simone Marchi, a principal scientist at the Southwest Research Institute. “Recently, we more fully investigated the viability of organics arriving via an asteroid or comet impact.”

Using computer simulations, a team of scientists looked at the sizes and velocities of impacts on the surface of Ceres. These simulations showed that projectiles hitting the surface at high veolicites would lose almost all of their organics due to shock compression.

Asteroids hitting Ceres with lower velocities could keep about 20 or 30 per cent of their organic material, but the localised distribution of organics on Ceres suggests smaller main belt asteroids are not involved.

“These findings indicate that the organics are likely to be native to Ceres,” says Marchi.


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