Feeds

Asteroids the source of Earth's water, NASA suggests

Oceans: Coming soon to a planet near you

The next step in data security

NASA scientists have provided tantalising evidence that Earth's oceans may have originated in space, supplied by water-packed asteroids which deposited their loads in terminal collisions with our ancient planet.

Observations of 24 Themis - which at roughly 190 km (120 miles) wide is the largest of the Themis asteroid family lying between the orbits of Jupiter and Mars - have confirmed the presence of surface water ice and carbon-based organic materials.

Since the asteroid orbits the Sun at 479 million kilometres (297 million miles), scientists previously thought it was "too close to the solar system's fiery heat source to carry water ice left over from the solar system's origin 4.6 billion years ago".

However, data captured by the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility in Hawaii confirm the continued presence of surface water ice on 24 Themis, suggesting that as it sublimates into space, it's replenished by a sub-surface reservoir.

Don Yeomans, manager of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office, said: "For a long time the thinking was that you couldn't find a cup's worth of water in the entire asteroid belt. Today we know you not only could quench your thirst, but you just might be able to fill up every pool on Earth - and then some."

Asteroids, unlike the planets, have remained pretty well unchanged during the last four billion years. Accordingly, scientists speculate that any water and organic compounds the surviving bodies contain is likely to be similar to that which their now-destroyed cousins delivered to our primordial world.

It's possible, they say, that it was asteroids which delivered the building-blocks of life to Earth.

The 24 Themis findings offer further food for thought: since such celestial bodies contain considerable amounts of water, they could serve as "fueling stations and watering holes for future interplanetary exploration", as Yeomans put it.

It appears, then, that 24 Themis is an ideal target for Barack Obama's audacious plan to land on an asteroid, and thirsty astronauts could enjoy a refreshing cup of space water before heading off to Mars.

The NASA findings are published in the latest issue of Nature. ®

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
SCREW YOU, Russia! NASA lobs $6.8bn at Boeing AND SpaceX to run space station taxis
Musk charging nearly half as much as Boeing for crew trips
Boffins say they've got Lithium batteries the wrong way around
Surprises at the nano-scale mean our ideas about how they charge could be all wrong
Thought that last dinosaur was BIG? This one's bloody ENORMOUS
Weighed several adult elephants, contend boffins
Edge Research Lab to tackle chilly LOHAN's final test flight
Our US allies to probe potential Vulture 2 servo freeze
Europe prepares to INVADE comet: Rosetta landing site chosen
No word yet on whether backup site is labelled 'K'
India's MOM Mars mission makes final course correction
Mangalyaan probe will feel the burn of orbital insertion on September 24th
Cracked it - Vulture 2 power podule fires servos for 4 HOURS
Pixhawk avionics juice issue sorted, onwards to Spaceport America
City hidden beneath England's Stonehenge had HUMAN ABATTOIR. And a pub
Boozed-up ancients drank beer before tearing corpses apart
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet
Explores the current state of website security and the contributions Symantec is making to help organizations protect critical data and build trust with customers.