Scientists find water on the surface of two asteroids

Isbel Lázaro.

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agua en la superficie de 2 asteroides

For the first time, a group of scientists has identified the presence of water molecules on the surface of 2 asteroids, a finding made with the help of the FORCAST (Faint Infrared Camera for the Study of Faint Celestial Objects) instrument of the now retired SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy) telescope.

This discovery, published in The Planetary Science Journalwas made by researchers at the Southwest Research Institute in the United States, who analyzed four asteroids composed mainly of silicates and found water in two of them. This important discovery will contribute to the understanding of how water is distributed in the solar system from its origin and could provide clues about its distribution around other stars, a crucial aspect for the search for extraterrestrial life.

Iris and Massalia: the two asteroids in question

The asteroids in question, named Iris and Massalia, contain water on their surfaces. Iris, with a diameter of 199 km, is larger than 99% of asteroids and orbits the Sun in the asteroid belt located between Mars and Jupiter, completing an orbit every 3.7 years. Massalia, on the other hand, has a diameter of 135 km and an orbit similar to that of Iris.

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The study estimates that there is about the amount of water in a soda can per cubic meter of asteroidal surface, an amount comparable to SOFIA observations of water on the Moon. “We have detected an unambiguous signal of molecular water on the asteroids Iris and Massalia.“, points out Dr. Anicia Arredondo, research leader. This work was inspired by previous research that identified molecular water on the Sunlit lunar surface, suggesting the possibility of using SOFIA to detect this spectral signature on other celestial bodies.

With the discovery of water on these two asteroids, the Southwest Research Institute team plans to use the NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope to observe other asteroids and expand our knowledge of the distribution of water in the solar system.

Does finding water on the surface of 2 asteroids indicate the existence of extraterrestrial life?

The finding of water on asteroids not only deepens the understanding of the solar system, but also plays a crucial role in the search for life beyond Earth. Water is a fundamental element for life as we know it, acting as a solvent in which chemical reactions essential to biology can occur.

This discovery opens new avenues of research into the possibility of life on other planets, especially those in the habitable zone of their stars, where water can exist in a liquid state. It also suggests that water, a vital resource for future space exploration and colonization missions, may be more common in the universe than previously thought.

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