Life on a Dwarf Planet? Scientists Find Evidence of Water Vapor on Largest Asteroid in Solar System

Astronomers are trying to determine if life on a dwarf planet exists after it was recently discovered contain water.

Ceres, the largest asteroid in the inner Solar System, could possibly contain life after scientists found evidence of water after discovering the presence of vapors.

The discovery was made at the European Space Agency's Herschel Space Observatory using an infrared detector telescope. By using that telescope scientists were able to spot characteristics of water vapor that were thought to be being emitted from two dark areas on Ceres' surface, according to NBC.

"This is what you might call the 'smoking gun,'" Mark Sykes, CEO and director of the Arizona-based Planetary Science Institute, told NBC. "The implications could be huge for the future of astrobiology and planetary exploration."

The research detailing the discovery is set to be published in February's journal Nature.

Next year, NASA's Dawn spacecraft is scheduled to begin orbiting the dwarf planet as part of a $466 million mission. Scientists are betting that studying the massive asteroid will provide further details as to the origins of the water vapors on Ceres and even the possibility of life.

Scientists have two theories as to how water may be present on the celestial body. One idea states that a layer of surface ice surrounding Ceres is evaporated when sunlight hits it. The other is the possible existence of volcanoes that eject ice instead of lava.

"The cryovolcanism hypothesis requires a warm interior, and it is possible there is a layer of water (subsurface ocean) somewhere," ESA's Michael Kuppers told

"In the cometary sublimation scenario, there is 'just' an ice layer that is locally close to the surface and heated by the sun. In this case, there may be conditions for liquid water somewhere in the interior as well, if pressure and temperature happen to be right."