‘Dawn’ NASA’s mission to the dwarf planet, Ceres has made a stunning discovery. It has found evidence for organic material on Ceres. Scientists found the organic material in and around Ernutet, a crater in the northern-hemisphere. It covers approximately 1000 square kilometers, in and around the crater. A very small area in Inamahari Crater, which is about 250 miles away from Ernutet, also shows some traces of organic materials. Scientists used the spacecraft’s visible and infrared mapping spectrometer to detect it.

Ernutet Crater measures about 32 miles (52 kilometers) in diameter and is located in the northern hemisphere of Ceres. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

The previous studies confirmed that water altered the hydrated minerals, carbonates, water ice etc.. Salts and sodium carbonate in the bright areas of Occator Crater found last year, gives rise to a possibility that they could have been carried by liquid. These discoveries, reported in the journal Science, has interested scientists as the organic molecules are necessary, though not sufficient, for life to exist.


Dawn’s discovery adds to the growing list of celestial bodies in the solar system which have organic molecules. Ceres also shares a lot in common with the meteorites which are rich in water and organics. Especially, the group of meteorites called the carbonaceous chondrites, have a lot in common with Ceres. This thereby strengthens the link between Ceres, meteorites and their parent bodies. Ceres is also the largest body in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

This enhanced color composite image from Dawn’s visible and infrared mapping spectrometer shows the area around Ernutet Crater on Ceres. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/ASI/INAF

Dawn will make its way to a new altitude of around 12,400 miles, to a different orbital plane on February 23. In late spring, Dawn will view Ceres with the sun directly behind the spacecraft. This will allow the spacecraft to view the Ceres brighter than before, thereby revealing more clues about its nature.


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