Dwarf Planet Ceres May Harbor Life; NASA Spacecraft En Route
NASA Hubble Space Telescope color image of Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt. Credit: NASA/ESA/J. Parker (Southwest Research Institute), P. Thomas (Cornell University), L. McFadden (University of Maryland, College Park), and M. Mutchler and Z. Levay (STScI)
In the frenzy to find life elsewhere in the solar system, Mars or the outer gas giant planets’ active moons are usually the odds-on favorites.
But the dwarf planet Ceres, the largest and most massive body in the Main Asteroid Belt, may have evolved some form of thermophilic subsurface bacteria, researchers now say.
At almost 1000 kms in diameter, icy Ceres is thought to be still warm enough inside to provide clement conditions for at least some sort of bacterial life.
Models suggest that the dwarf planet coalesced within 5 million years of our solar system’s first formative salvos. And the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) has determined that Ceres is likely to be differentiated. That is, with the help of radioactive nuclides, water ice melted into an icy mantle while rocky silicates sank to form its putative inner core.
But from a geophysical point of view, researchers stress that Ceres is not an asteroid but, in fact, an intact, small terrestrial-like icy planet. However, like so many objects in the Main Asteroid Belt, Jupiter’s gravity put a squelch on Ceres’ ability to form a full-sized terrestrial planet.
Source and more