Water Ice Found in Space on Asteroid
By Harman Smith and Laura Generosa (nee Berwin), graphic artists and contractors to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, via Wikimedia Commons

Water Ice Found in Space on Asteroid

on May 1, 2010

BBC News: “Asteroid Themis Has ‘Frosted Surface’Water ice has been discovered again in space, this time on the surface of the asteroid 24 Themis.

Researchers report in the journal Nature the discovery of frozen water on a large asteroid in the solar system’s main asteroid belt, which lies between Mars and Jupiter. Intriguingly, the scientists have concluded that the ice is unstable and is being replenished from some source.

The ice is unstable and is being replenished from some source.

Specifically, because the asteroid has no atmosphere, scientists would expect the ice to vaporize easily in the sunlight. Since it apparently does not, the researchers have proposed mechanisms to explain the presence of the ice. For example, it may be that collisions with other asteroids have released ice from the asteroid’s interior, or that water vapor leaks out of the interior of the asteroid and condenses temporarily on its surface.

It’s no surprise that the researchers tie the finding—which is otherwise an example of good observational science—with Earth’s origin. Team member Humberto Campins of the University of Central Florida stated, “It’s interesting that we have detected ice on an asteroid because there have been suggestions that water on Earth came from impacts with many asteroids in Earth’s early history.” The suggestions were intended as a solution to the problem that the early Earth, according to the planetary evolution account, would have been too hot for water.

The scientists also discovered the signature of organic compounds on 24 Themis, though such compounds are merely building blocks of the building blocks of the building blocks (etc.) of even simple life. But if anything, the news reminds us that even where the basic components of life exist, it’s nowhere near enough. The components must exist in a very special place within a solar system (neither too close nor too far to a star), they must be protected by an atmosphere, and—most importantly—they must be assembled into the highly complicated, metabolizing, reproducing form we call life.

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