PerspectivePlanetary Science

Dwarf planet Ceres and the ingredients of life

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Science  17 Feb 2017:
Vol. 355, Issue 6326, pp. 692-693
DOI: 10.1126/science.aal4765

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  • RE: Planetary volatiles and prebiotic synthesis

    Küppers review (1) of the paper of De Sanctis et al. (2) suggests there have been (and are) difficulties with providing a source of Earth’s volatiles because Earth “formed dry”. There can be little doubt that Earth certainly has fewer volatiles than it would have if formed from some kind of average mix of “modern” meteoritic material (3, 4), which may or may not indicate formation from anhydrous sources. The source of the known volatiles may well be late-accreting objects from the asteroid belt, as suggested by the presence of abundant volatiles on Ceres, but accretion almost certainly involved late additions of various sized objects, from small meteorites to asteroids. This probably added a percent or more of Earth’s total mass in an accretionary tail (5) over 100 million years or more, following a much more energetic early phase, which possibly involved a moon-forming impact within the first 50-100 million years of Earth’s formation (6). In fact, a meteorite mix similar to the inventory of Antarctic meteorites, which may be our best guess at average compositions for late-accreting material, is sufficient to explain all of Earth’s volatiles without the need for a large, volatile-rich object or objects (3, 4). It is also clear that the presence of specific classes of organic compounds on potentially accreting bodies, in particular amino acids, etc., is not required as a source of pre-biotic molecules (3, 4). The conditions of accretion, and the nature of likely accreting...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.

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