Scientists studying the dwarf planet Ceres on Thursday announced that they had discovered carbon-based organic compounds, raising hope that it might be able to host life. In an article published in Science, the researchers said the discovery was made through a study of Ceres – located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter – using the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Dawn spacecraft, Reuters reported.

Dawn lead scientist Christopher Russell said that while the compounds “are a long way from microbial life”, the discovery of the material indicated that the solar system has always contained “the building blocks of life”. The material was found near a nearly 50-km-wide crater in the planet’s northern hemisphere. The scientists said that the compounds matched minerals such as kerite or asphaltite.

European Space Astronomy Center planetary scientist Michael Kuppers said that “primitive life” may have developed on the planet. “Ceres is a dwarf planet that may still preserve internal heat from its formation period and may even contain a subsurface ocean,” Kuppers said. “Ceres may have been able to take this process only so far,” Russell said. “However, this discovery tells us that we need to explore Ceres further.” The dwarf planet, the largest object in the asteroid belt, was discovered by Giuseppe Piazzi in January 1801. The planet is composed primarily of rock and ice, and is about 950 km in diameter.