TechRevolutionary discovery of water on asteroids rekindles debate on extraterrestrial life

Revolutionary discovery of water on asteroids rekindles debate on extraterrestrial life

Scientists have discovered water on the surface of an asteroid for the first time.
Scientists have discovered water on the surface of an asteroid for the first time.
Images source: © NASA, SwRI
9:22 AM EST, February 14, 2024

Over a million asteroids, differing in composition and structure, circle our Sun. Asteroids made up of silicate materials without ice predominate closer to the Sun. Conversely, icy objects are more prevalent farther out. Until now, the scientific consensus was that any water within these celestial bodies should have evaporated long ago.

Recent research has challenged this longstanding belief, utilizing data from the airborne SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy). Scientists at the Southwest Research Institute unmasked the existence of water on the surface of the Iris and Massalia asteroids.

Water detected on asteroid surfaces

The asteroids Iris and Massalia, upon which water has been discovered, are found orbiting in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. These asteroids are colossal, with Iris boasting a diameter of 124 miles and Massalia measuring 84 miles across.

Scientists at the Southwest Research Institute collected vital data from the SOFIA observatory. Notably, they used readings from the FORCAST (Faint Object InfraRed Camera) camera, an invaluable tool in identifying the signature of water molecules on the asteroids' surface.

Dr. Anicia Arredondo, the lead author of the research from the Southwest Research Institute, confirmed that the water detected on the asteroids is akin to the water found on the Moon, based on measurements of the strength of spectral lines and the volume and distribution of water. The water is intertwined with minerals, trapped within, and is also absorbed by silicates.

Additional study needed

Researchers are proposing additional asteroid study. Comprehensive understanding of the water distribution within our solar system mandates further analysis. The team plans to leverage the superior quality optics and an enhanced signal-to-noise ratio of the James Webb Space Telescope in their future endeavors.

Studying the dispersal of asteroids assists scientists in understanding the constitution and transmission of elements in the solar nebula prior to the formation of planets and asteroids. Furthermore, they aim to grasp the dispersion of water, which could offer insights into its spread in exoplanetary systems and potentially hint at the presence of extraterrestrial life.

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