New analysis suggests Ceres has more organic molecules than previously estimated

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The uncertainty of science: A new analysis of data from Dawn now suggests that the surface of Ceres has a greater percentage of organic molecules than previously estimated.

To get an initial idea of how abundant those compounds might be, the original research team compared the VIR data from Ceres with laboratory reflectance spectra of organic material formed on Earth. Based on that standard, the researchers concluded that between six and 10 percent of the spectral signature they detected on Ceres could be explained by organic matter.

But for this new research, Kaplan and her colleagues wanted to re-examine those data using a different standard. Instead of relying on Earth rocks to interpret the data, the team turned to an extraterrestrial source: meteorites. Some meteorites — chunks of carbonaceous chondrite that have fallen to Earth after being ejected from primitive asteroids — have been shown to contain organic material that’s slightly different from what’s commonly found on our own planet. And Kaplan’s work shows that the spectral reflectance of the extraterrestrial organics is distinct from that of terrestrial counterparts.

“What we find is that if we model the Ceres data using extraterrestrial organics, which may be a more appropriate analog than those found on Earth, then we need a lot more organic matter on Ceres to explain the strength of the spectral absorption that we see there,” Kaplan said. “We estimate that as much as 40 to 50 percent of the spectral signal we see on Ceres is explained by organics. That’s a huge difference compared to the six to 10 percent previously reported based on terrestrial organic compounds.”

Please note: Both estimates depend on assumptions that could easily be wrong. Ceres might have less organics, or more, than either estimate. Or somewhere in the middle. These estimates are merely educated guesses.

And remember, organic molecules does not mean life. It only means the molecules use carbon as a component.


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