In the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, scientists have discovered a new kind of huge, dark space rock that is teeming with water.
Ceres is the only dwarf planet in the inner solar system, and it has many characteristics with this asteroid group, including being extremely water-rich. While they are near to Ceres, these asteroids orbit further out in the belt than their much larger sibling.
The finding, which was made using data collected by the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility in Hawaii, supports the growing body of evidence suggesting that the main belt asteroids moved there from a frigid location, maybe beyond Neptune’s or Pluto’s orbits. Such evidence suggests the asteroids’ current location, relatively closer to the sun, was influenced by the immense gravity of big planets in the early solar system.
the history of water on Earth
The discovery of this new group of asteroids may excite those who believe that the water on Earth was created when icy comets and asteroids crashed onto the globe (Opens in a new tab). While some scientists believe primitive Earth vented out gases 4.5 billion years ago, eventually creating an atmosphere that allowed rain to fall and pool(Opens in a new tab), many believe the large bodies of water formed because space rocks from the outer edge of the solar system brought water to it or some combination of the two. There is still no explanation for what happened.
Andy Rivkin, a planetary astronomer at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Lab, said that while this collection of asteroids isn’t quite a “missing link” to Earth’s hydration history, the research does back up the idea that super distant rocks brought ingredients for water to an otherwise arid region of the solar system. The asteroid expert Rivkin, who was not involved with this research, has written extensively on the topic of water and organic material bearing asteroids.
In an interview with Mashable, Rivkin speculated that objects like this would have been the ones to make it into our solar system with ice and organics intact. In addition to striking Mars, “their cousins might have impacted the Earth and carried some of that.”
There are millions of asteroids in solar orbit. These are the debris from when the solar system was being formed, about 4.6 billion years ago. In popular culture, asteroids are typically portrayed as dangerous interplanetary neighbours that will grab headlines when they reach “near to Earth,” even if they are actually securely tumbling millions of kilometres away. Most astronomers view them as insignificant rocks that never managed to form a unified planet.
But, their scientific importance cannot be denied, since they provide an ancient record of the intricate chemical and physical changes that occurred over time in the solar nebula, the cloud of gas and dust from which the sun and planets formed. This study was recently published in Nature Astronomy. The new class of asteroids like Ceres have the same components necessary for life as Earth, including plenty of water and carbon.
He told Mashable that asteroid research can shed light on the solar system’s beginnings and development.
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Researchers from Heidelberg University in Germany(Opens in a new tab) utilised computer models to investigate possible routes these asteroids might have taken from the solar system’s periphery to the main asteroid belt.
Takir has found 15 dark and water-rich asteroids similar to Ceres after observing 100 carbonaceous asteroids(Opens in a new tab) with infrared spectroscopy, which measures the light reflected from a surface to provide information about its materials. He thinks scientists will be able to estimate how many others like them are in the main asteroid belt with more observations.
Ceres, a large, 500-mile-wide asteroid located more than 250 million miles from the sun, was mostly unknown to the general public until 2006. Ceres was promoted(Opens in new tab) to the dwarf planet status at the same moment that Pluto was demoted. Later in 2015, scientists took a closer look(Opens in new tab) at the bright spots on Ceres’ surface using a NASA satellite.
Scientists were surprised to find out that Ceres had oceans thanks to the Dawn mission(Opens in a new tab). The white specks on it turned out to be a crust of sodium carbonate, the same salt used in water softeners. The mission data led scientists to believe that the salt was the leftovers from a huge saltwater lake (Opens in new tab) located roughly 25 miles deep and hundreds of miles across. Salt water seeped out of ice volcanoes on the dwarf planet because meteorite strikes melted slush just below the surface or cracked the dwarf planet open in broad areas.
Ceres, the solar system’s nearest ocean world, has piqued the interest of astrobiologists who wonder if primitive lifeforms might ever have evolved there. To better understand Ceres, the National Academies Planetary Science Decadal Survey(Opens in a new tab) recently suggested sending a robotic spacecraft to land on the asteroid and collect samples.
Identical to Ceres, the asteroids identified feature surface materials that formed from contact with liquid water. According to the findings, several of these asteroids might also contain water ice.
Asteroid 10 Hygiea is the largest black Ceres-like asteroid with a nearly spherical shape, according to Takir. For a thorough search for water ice on these asteroids, high-resolution spacecraft observations are required.
The research team didn’t identify any meteorite material on Earth matching the new class of asteroids, despite the compelling evidence for objects in the outer solar system transporting water elements inside. If those things never make it to Earth, that doesn’t look well for the theory.
Nonetheless, experts agree that the absence of physical evidence does not prove their nonexistence.
If you toss a snowball at Earth, it will melt in the atmosphere and disappear into thin air, as Rivkin put it. The water, however, would be added to the air.