As researchers continue to realize the extent of the tenacity of life on (and around) Earth, the possibility of simple lifeforms being found in what would once would have been considered the most unlikely of places is now being entertained. Some scientists are even advocating that we leave no stone unturned — perhaps literally in the case of Lucy McFadden of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, whom is part of a team that is proposing new missions be launched to investigate various bodies in the asteroid belt.
“We need to know what the extent of this competition or material is in the Asteroid Belt to know if we should be looking more seriously for life or signs of life in the Asteroid Belt,” explains McFadden. The proposed mission would study the elements of the targeted asteroids, including looking for the presence of water, suspected to be present in both Vesta and Ceres.
Ceres itself, the largest known body in the asteroid belt, has been found to be home to organic compounds, specifically from the methyl and methylene groups, clustered around the crater called Ernutet. Researchers believe the compounds weren’t deposited there by another body — the heat from a collision would have destroyed the molecules — but rather, the still-unidentified substance developed there, native to its dwarf planet home.
Ceres shows signs of having an ocean of liquid water under its mantle of ice, and might very well have a source of heat from within keeping the water warm. Along with the comparatively low radiation exposure the bodies of the asteroid belt are under, organic compounds present there could very well have provided the foundation for life forms that formed there, even if it is just single-celled organisms.
- This artist's conception shows the closest known planetary system to our own, called Epsilon Eridani...which "hosts two asteroid belts" NASA via Wimedia Commons
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