First Detection of Water On an Asteroid by a Retired NASA Mission

Two asteroids’ surfaces have been found to have water by scientists thanks to a NASA mission that was discontinued in 2022.

According to a news release and scientific publication, researchers from the Southwest Research Institute were able to find the water molecules using data from the now-retired Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, a collaborative project between NASA scientists and the German Space Agency at DLR. In the past, researchers had found hydrogen in the asteroids, but they were unable to differentiate between water and its near chemical sibling, hydroxyl.

Researchers discovered that two of the four asteroids they examined contained molecular water on them. Silicate is an asteroid composed primarily of silicon and oxygen molecules. Understanding more about these asteroids can help illustrate how materials in space were spread and changed over time. These asteroids form in close proximity to the sun.

In a report published in the Planetary Science Journal, Anicia Arredondo of the Southwest Research Institute stated, “Asteroids are leftovers from the planetary formation process, so their compositions vary depending on where they formed in the solar nebula.” The principal author of the paper was Arredondo.

According to Arredondo, the finding of water molecules on the asteroids may provide light on how water became widespread on Earth. Additionally, it can assist in determining the distribution of water in other solar systems, which may help scientists locate potential extraterrestrial life.

Enough water was discovered on the moon’s surface to fill a 12-ounce bottle. These hydrogen molecules were “chemically bound in minerals” and “trapped in a cubic meter of soil spread across the lunar surface.” Arredondo claimed that the “abundance of water” in the asteroids demonstrates that water may bind to minerals or other things and is compatible with the water discovered in the moon.

According to Arredondo, more research will be done on water on asteroids and other celestial planets. An additional thirty targets will be examined by researchers in an effort to “increase our understanding of the distribution of water in the solar system.” The James Webb Space Telescope will be utilized by the team to examine a few of these targets.

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