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Astronomers find loads of ice on big asteroid

Thanks to Lucas for the link.
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WASHINGTON – 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.

This asteroid has an extensive but thin frosty coating. It is likely replenished by an extensive reservoir of frozen water deep inside rock once thought to be dry and desolate, scientists report in two studies in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature.

Two teams of scientists used a NASA telescope in Hawaii to look at an asteroid called 24 Themis, one of the bigger rocks in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. They examined light waves bouncing off the rock and found the distinct chemical signature of ice, said University of Central Florida astronomy professor Humberto Campins, lead author of one of the studies.

Astronomers have long theorized that hydrogen and oxygen and bits of water locked in clay are in asteroids, but this is the first solid evidence. And what they found on 24 Themis, a rock more than 100 miles wide with temperatures around 100 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, was more than they ever expected. About a third of the rock seemed to be covered in frost.
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[UPDATE 4/29]

Ice asteroids likely source of Earth's water: study


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PARIS (AFP) – Astronomers have for the first time detected ice and organic compounds on an asteroid, a pair of landmark studies released on Wednesday says.

The discovery bolsters the theory that comets and asteroids crashing into Earth nearly four billion years ago seeded the planet with water and carbon-based molecules, both essential ingredients for life.

Working separately, two teams of scientists using NASA's Infrared Telescope Facility in Hawaii found that the 24 Themis, which orbits the Sun between Mars and Jupiter, is literally covered in a thin coating of frost.

It had long been suspected that the massive space rocks that bombarded our planet after the formation of the solar system contained frozen water, but the two studies, published in Nature, provide the first hard evidence.

Still, a mystery remained: How could frozen water persist over billions of years on an asteroid hot enough to vapourise surface ice?
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