Ceres, the largest asteroid in the Solar System, and now considered a dwarf planet, may have once been habitable. NASA’s Dawn spacecraft collected samples from the surface and were found to contain organic compounds and amino acids, which are often referred to as the building blocks of life. Dawn has also discovered evidence of a subsurface ocean and cryovolcanoes. Cryovolcanoes spew out water, ice, and methane gas instead of the molten rock our volcanoes spit out.
This is a big deal for astrobiology because it further explores the possibility that the seeds of life exist throughout the Solar System and in the asteroid belt, specifically. There are theories that an asteroid crashing into Earth brought organic materials that would later form life.
Earlier this year, NASA approved two asteroid missions; one will be visiting Jupiter’s trojan asteroids and the other will be visiting a completely metal asteroid. It is thought that the metal asteroid is actually the core of a planet that had its outer layers destroyed by collisions. These missions will look for evidence of organic materials and amino acids, as well.