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Water has been spotted on an orbiting asteroid for the first time, according to a new study of a space rock that appears to be coated with frost.
What's more, the frost seems to be mixed with carbon-bearing material, according to results from two independent teams studying the asteroid, which is known as 24 Themis.
"We report the first detection of water ice and of organic molecules on an asteroid, and they are both on the same asteroid," said Humberto Campins of the University of Central Florida, leader of one of the teams.
Both teams used NASA's Infrared Telescope Facility in Hawaii to watch how sunlight reflected off the asteroid at different wavelengths, revealing the watery signature.
A closer look at similar asteroids, perhaps during a proposed NASA mission, could help reveal whether the water we drink—and maybe even the building blocks of life—were delivered to Earth by impacting space rocks. (See "Comet Swarm Delivered Earth's Oceans?")
Asteroid Water Ice Exposed by "Impact Gardening"?
Asteroids are believed to be the leftovers of planet formation, with compositions that have remained almost pristine for 4.6 billion years.
The asteroid 24 Themis orbits about x million miles (480 million kilometers) from the sun. It's one of the largest asteroids in the main asteroid belt, which lies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.
Now we just need water on a planet, unfrozen.
I thought this was kind of cool and opens the possibilities for future hopes of finding life on planets, at least more so.