Situated in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, Ceres is a relatively small world measuring a mere 580 miles in diameter and is the only asteroid belt object rounded by its own gravity.
It was visited back in March 2015 by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft which discovered, among other things, the presence of organic molecules – the building blocks from which all life is based.
Now, five years on, it turns out that Ceres is an even more promising candidate for life than previously believed thanks to the discovery that it is also home to a subterranean ocean of salty water.
This places it among the most promising places to look for evidence of extraterrestrial life in our solar system alongside Saturn’s moon Enceladus and Jupiter’s moon Europa.
The discovery was made by researchers from the United States and Europe who analyzed high resolution images of the surface of Ceres to determine that there was in fact an “extensive reservoir” of brine beneath the surface of the 20-million-year-old Occator crater.
Other separate studies also discovered the presence of hydrohalite – a compound found in sea ice that until now had never been found anywhere beyond the Earth.
“We can now say that Ceres is a sort of ocean world, as are some of Saturn’s and Jupiter’s moons,” said Maria Cristina De Sanctis from Rome’s Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica.
“The material found on Ceres is extremely important in terms of astrobiology. We know that these minerals are all essential for the emergence of life.”