Could there be life on Ceres?





Ceres , circling around the sun in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, is a unique body of the solar system because it has a lot to do with Saturn’s moon Enceladus: both are considered to be potential sources of storage life. In March 2015, the mission of NASA «Dawn» (Dawn) arrive at the dwarf planet Ceres, the first of the smaller class of planets that found close to the Earth.

At Thursday, August 15, Britney Schmidt, a signalman team Dawn Mission and Julia Castillo Rogez, a planetary scientist at JPL, have raised a stir article titled “Ceres: open ice world?” Which expressed a growing excitement about the internals of the icy body.

“I think Ceres is a game changer in the solar system,” – said Schmidt. – “Ceres – the only one of its kind.”

When Ceres was discovered (in 1801), originally astronomers classify it as a planet. A massive body floated between Mars and Jupiter, where the mathematically predicted the location of the planet. Further observations showed that this region is filled with small bodies, and Ceres downgraded in status to the next asteroid belt. And only when the designated dwarf planet Pluto in 2006, Ceres has been raised to the same level.

Ceres – the most massive body in the asteroid belt, and more than some of the icy moons, which scientists believe may nest life. It is twice the size of Enceladus, Saturn’s rich geysers, which can hide a life in liquid water under the icy surface.

Unlike other asteroids, Ceres (the size of Texas) has a perfect circular shape that hints at its origins.

“The fact that Ceres is a round, says that she almost certainly formed in the young solar system,” – says Schmidt. She explains that the later formation would create a less rounded shape.

Form dwarf planet combined with its total mass and size, body detects extremely low density. Scientists believe that under dusty and dirty clay surface of Ceres hides ice. Perhaps one day on it was the ocean. The difference between Ceres and other icy bodies in the solar system is that it is closest to the Sun.

Ceres is less than three times farther from the Sun than the Earth, which in principle would provide enough heat to melt the ice. Examination of the inside of the dwarf planet may provide insight into the early solar system, especially in areas where water and other light components could be present.

“Ceres as the guardian of the history of water in the center of the solar system,” – says Schmidt.

Dimensions of Ceres and the distance to it make it harder to study the Earth. Picture made the Hubble Space Telescope, give some idea of ​​its surface, but the details can not be more than 25 kilometers in diameter, to be noticed. Several round spots spoil the landscape, as well as a few of impact basins, such as those that are available in Europe. The largest of them, Piazzi named after the discoverer of dwarf planets has a diameter of about 250 kilometers. If it is – shock the pool, it would have been formed by an object about 25 kilometers in size.

But Schmidt this fact is another possible indication of the nature of the surface of the dwarf, “This does not just mean that Ceres has suffered from something of a diameter of 25 kilometers,” – she said. – “It means that everything that happened in Ceres, was completely erased [topographic signature event].”

Ceres may have suffered from strong shocks, especially during periods of heavy bombardment history of the young solar system. If the surface is made of ice, these “symptoms” could eventually disappear.

“The spectrum shows us that water was involved in the creation of materials on the surface,” – says Schmidt.

The spectrum shows that the water associated with the materials on the surface of Ceres, forming clay. Schmidt compared it with the recent samples of minerals found on the surface of Mars Kyuriositi.

“Water is literally bathes the surface of Ceres,” – she said.

In addition, the astronomers found evidence of carbonate minerals that form in the process, with the participation of water and heat. Carbonates are often produced in the processes of life.

Material formed on the surface of Ceres, a member of the impacted material, and for the past 4.5 billion years to create what Schmidt calls “a mixture of water-rich material that we find on the inhabited planets like Earth and potentially habitable planets such as Mars.”

Water is considered a necessary ingredient for the evolution of life as we know it. Planets that once could contain water, such as Mars, as well as the moon, that contain it today, like Enceladus and Europe, all are perfectly suited to life in a different way.

Due to the size and proximity Ceres Schmidt calls “perhaps the most interesting of these icy objects. If it is icy, at some of the moments of time could be full of the oceans. ”

Castillo Rogez compared the Earth, Europe, and Ceres, and discovered that the dwarf planet more in common with Earth than Jupiter’s moon. As the Earth and Sun Ceres used as a heat source, and Europe is taking heat from tidal interaction with Jupiter. The surface temperature of the dwarf planet an average of 130 to 200 degrees Kelvin, and the Earth – 300. Europe has a 50-110 degrees.

“At least, at the equator, where the surface is warm, Ceres could keep water in a liquid state,” – says Castillo Rogez.

Liquid water can exist in other parts of the dwarf planet known as cold traps – a shaded area under the crust of frozen water. These icy puddles were found on the Earth’s moon.

“Chemistry, thermal activity, the heat source and the prospect of convection in the ice shell are the key points that make us think that Ceres was alive at one point in its history,” – said Castillo Rogez.

While scientists extract additional information about Europe and Enceladus, these two objects is becoming more and more attractive place to live. From the point of view of astrobiology and space exploration Ceres, according to scientists, the first two passes.

“If we think of the future missions with rovers and even people, why not fly to Ceres?”.

Although it would be more difficult to drill than a Europe that can boast of an icy surface, a dwarf planet would be a great testing ground for the rover. Schmidt noted that the conquest of Ceres could be the starting point in the study the outer solar system. Its low weight and will mean a simpler landing than on Mars, and therefore, the planet would be a good place for manned missions.

“In this special place the solar system is a unique object that could tell us much that we do not know about the construction of a habitable planet.”

The mission of “Breaking Dawn» NASA launched 27 September 2007. The unit went to the asteroid Vesta, where he remained in orbit since July 2011 to July 2012, and then went to Ceres. It is planned that Dawn will hold five months studying dwarf planet. Schmidt hopes that the device will last much longer, providing the database before the conquest of Ceres.

Castillo Rogez notes that not only Dawn reaches Ceres in 2015: The unit of the European Space Agency’s Rosetta will accompany Churyumova-Gerasimenko comet around the Sun in the same year, while the mission of the New Horizons NASA will reach Pluto and its moon Charon.

“2015 will be a great year for the icy bodies”, – says Castillo Rogez. Schmidt echoed him: “I think when we get to Ceres, is a radical change rules of the game, a new window into the solar system, we could not have made if it had not got to him.”

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Tags: solar system , the Sun , Ceres , Enceladus .


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