Thursday, March 05, 2009

Cradle Ceres

A few years ago I wrote a novel (The Secret of Life) that riffed on Paul Davis's hypothesis that the early Earth could have been seeded with life from Mars via rocks knocked off the red planet by big meteorite impacts while it was still warm and wet.

Now, Joop Houtkooper from the University of Giessen has suggested that the dwarf planet Ceres may have been the incubator of the Solar System's first life. Ceres may have retained a considerable amount of primordial water because it didn't suffer any large impacts immediately after it formed, would have cooled down more quickly than either Earth or Mars during the early history of the Solar System, so life could have started there first. And because it's a relatively small body, it doesn't take much of an impact to chip off life-bearing fragments that could have seeded Mars and Earth. (It occurs to me that it might have been some other dwarf planet that subsequently was shattered by some major impact, sending bacteria-ridden rocks in all directions.)

Not only that, but there might still be life on Ceres: like Europa, Ganymede, Triton, and a bunch of other icy moons, Ceres may have an internal ocean under its icy surface. Maybe those old pulp sf stories about tentacled beasties infesting asteroids weren't so far off the mark after all . . .


Blogger PeteY said...

I believe Vesta is supposed to be the source for many of the meteorites reaching Earth, but I'm not aware of evidence for life in them.

TSoL was the first of your books that I read, and still, I think, my favourite.

March 05, 2009 4:25 pm  
Blogger Paul McAuley said...

As I understand it, Vesta was hit by something big early in its history, and as a consequence lost any water it might have had and has a rocky surface. So there was no chance of life evolving on it. But Ceres managed to dodge the bullet, so is still icy.

March 05, 2009 6:24 pm  

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