On April 29, 2010 it was announced that water ice and organic molecules have been found on a 123 mile diameter asteroid, lying in the main ‘asteroid belt‘ between Mars and Jupiter, known as 24 Themis.
Independent discoveries of the find were initially announced by two scientists Andrew S. Rivkin and Joshua P. Emery, using the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility 3m telescope. They further revealed that the water ice appears all over the asteroid’s surface.
The presence of organic molecules including hydrocarbons and aromatics, were also discovered after conducting spectral analysis, and then subtracting the effect of the water ice from the tests.
Considering the relatively close proximity of 479 million kilometers between 24 Themis and the Sun, the scientists concluded that the asteroid must be carrying its own supply of water in order to have avoided sublimation into space.
Although water has been found on other planets, it is the first time an asteroid has been found with its own supply which has now had a major impact on scientific thought. As Central Florida astronomy professor Humberto Campins explains:
“This asteroid holds clues to our past and how the solar system and water on Earth may have originated and it also has clues to our future with exploration of near-Earth asteroids. We’re showing that they’re wetter than we thought. We’re showing they have organic molecules that might have been the building blocks of life on Earth.”
The discovery of water on asteroids would prove of incredible importance to the future of space exploration, as visiting astronauts could then use asteroids as a source of drinking water, as well as in the production of fuel.