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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A fundamental question in the evolution of the early Earth is the origin of the oceans and of some of the organic molecules that were required for the formation of life. Earth formed in the protoplanetary disk, a mixture of gas and dust. At the location of Earth, temperatures were too high for water vapor and some more volatile organic components to condense. This led to the idea that those materials may have been delivered to Earth by asteroids and/or comets from the outer solar system. Recent spacecraft studies of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko with Rosetta (1, 2), and of Ceres on page 719 of this issue by De Sanctis et al. (3) and by Prettyman et al. (4) with the Dawn space probe, provide evidence that complex organic molecules and even amino acids are ubiquitous on small bodies in the solar system and that water ice is abundant in the asteroid belt.