Organic materials have ben found on Ceres
Organic material has been discovered on Ceres – the dwarf planet between Mars and Jupiter – boosting the hopes of finding life outside of Earth.
The materials were discovered by Nasa’s Dawn spacecraft and while they cannot be identified exactly, the researchers say the materials resemble tar-like materials such as kerite or asphaltite.
Dawn's lead scientist Christopher Russell said: “The discovery indicates that the starting material in the solar system contained the essential elements, or the building blocks, for life.
"Ceres may have been able to take this process only so far. Perhaps to move further along the path took a larger body with more complex structure and dynamics (like Earth).”
Ceres compared to Earth
The planet, which is only the size of Texas with a 590 mile diameter, is made up of ice and rock and is thought to have been present when the solar system was beginning to form 4.5 billion years ago.
The dwarf planet has now become of keen interest to scientists who are hoping to find life elsewhere, along with Europa – one of Jupiter’s moons.
The materials were discovered by Dawn
Planetary scientist Michael Kuppers, from the European Space Astronomy Centre, confirmed that this discovery could be the answer to what they have been looking for.
He said: “This opens the possibility that primitive life could have developed on Ceres itself.”
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But Mr Kuppers added that there is a long way to go before alien life can be confirmed.
He continued: "I think these organic molecules are a long way from microbial life.
"However, this discovery tells us that we need to explore Ceres further."