Friday, 16 December 2016

We can add Ceres to the list of places where life may have formed

Carol Raymond/JPL

Ceres may be a cold, dark, and dead world today, but scientists poring over a trove of data returned by the Dawn spacecraft have found that has not always been the case. Rather, new discoveries of ice on the surface of Ceres and other emerging clues have led planetary scientists to conclude the dwarf planet once had an inner ocean, and perhaps it even harbored life. They discussed their findings Thursday at the annual American Geophysical Union meeting during a news conference.

Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt. Since Dawn reached it in early 2015, the spacecraft has returned 54,000 images, 16 million visible spectra, and 21 million infrared spectra. It mapped out the dwarf planet’s gravity field in great deal. Additionally, Dawn carries a detector to study the collision of neutrons with the surface of Ceres. Based upon the energy of gamma rays produced by such collisions, the spacecraft can detect various elements at the surface and to a depth of about one meter. In the last two years Dawn has found a lot of hydrogen.

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