PLANETARY SCIENCE: Localized aliphatic organic material on the surface of Ceres

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Abstract

Organic compounds occur in some chondritic meteorites, and their signatures on solar system bodies have been sought for decades. Spectral signatures of organics have not been unambiguously identified on the surfaces of asteroids, whereas they have been detected on cometary nuclei. Data returned by the Visible and InfraRed Mapping Spectrometer on board the Dawn spacecraft show a clear detection of an organic absorption feature at 3.4 micrometers on dwarf planet Ceres. This signature is characteristic of aliphatic organic matter and is mainly localized on a broad region of ˜1000 square kilometers close to the ˜50-kilometer Ernutet crater. The combined presence on Ceres of ammonia-bearing hydrated minerals, water ice, carbonates, salts, and organic material indicates a very complex chemical environment, suggesting favorable environments to prebiotic chemistry.

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