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Scientists have found lots of life-essential water — frozen as ice — in an unexpected place in our solar system: an asteroid between Mars and Jupiter.
The discovery of significant asteroid ice has several consequences. It could help explain where early Earth first got its water. It makes asteroids more attractive to explore, dovetailing with President Barack Obama's announcement earlier this month that astronauts should visit an asteroid. And it even muddies the definition between comets and asteroids, potentially triggering a Pluto-like scientific spat over what to call these solar system bodies.
The largest known asteroid could contain more fresh water than Earth and looks like our planet in other ways, according to a new study that further blurs the line between planets and large space rocks.
We usually think of asteroids as dark, dry, lifeless chunks of rock, just like the image of Asteroid Itokawa, above. But some asteroids may be more like "minor planets" after all. Researchers have found evidence on one asteroid – 24 Themis – of water ice and organic materials. This discovery is exciting on two fronts: one, this evidence supports the idea that asteroids could be responsible for bringing water and organic material to Earth, and two, if the proposed path for NASA is to visit an asteroid, having water and organics at the destination makes things a bit more interesting.
Another possible place to look for life in the solar system is asteroids. Researchers announced for the first time Wednesday that they'd found direct proof of frozen water and organic compounds – which could include the ingredients for life – on a space rock in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Both water and organic materials are considered necessary to make a place habitable.