The Dawn Spacecraft is about to get a close-up view of a potentially habitable planet. The space probe will orbit the dwarf planet Ceres sometime around March 2015. Ceres is the largest object in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter which some scientists feel has the capability of supporting life as we know it.
According to Discovery News, Ceres is of great interest to astronomers and scientists. Not only may it be able to support life as we know it — potentially harboring life in space already — the small dwarf planet may also be the “largest water reservoir in the inner solar system aside from Earth.” Scientists believe that Ceres may be comprised of 40 percent water by volume. However, scientists are unsure how much of that water is actually liquid.
“Ceres is actually the largest water reservoir in the inner solar system other than the Earth. However, it’s unclear at the moment how much, if any, of this water is liquid.”
The potential for liquid water is promising, considering that Ceres has a relatively decent amount of solar heating. Ceres may also have the capability to generate its own internal heat like Jovian moon Europa and the Saturn satellite Enceladus. The internal heating theory, which suggests Ceres is capable of producing its own internal heating through tidal forces, stems from the fact that scientists discovered water vapor emissions coming from Ceres earlier this year. These vapor plumes could be a sign of internal heating and a potential subsurface body of water. However, it could also just be ice water near Ceres surface that is being heated by the sun and evaporating.
However, the Dawn Spacecraft will be able to answer these questions more definitively, once it makes its way into Ceres orbit. As the Inquisitr previously reported, the detailed images that Dawn will be able to capture once in orbit will be significant.
“At that point, Dawn will be able to capture detailed images of the tiny planet, possibly including ice caps, clouds, and ice volcanoes. Astronomers would not be surprised by any of these findings, as they have discovered direct evidence of water on the dwarf planet Ceres in the form of vapor plumes erupting into space, possibly from volcano-like ice geysers on its surface.”
What exactly will the Dawn Spacecraft be looking for in regards to the potential for harboring life on Ceres, aside from a warm alien welcome? Jian-Yang Li, of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, says that life as we know it requires three main ingredients.
“Liquid water, an energy source and certain chemical building blocks (namely, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogren, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur).”
If the Dawn is able to find these three key components, Ceres could very well prove to be home to at least some life in space.