Researchers detect water ice and organic compounds on ‘24 Themis’ asteroid
According to the findings of two research teams, water ice and organic compounds have been detected on the ‘24 Themis’ asteroid – a discovery that corroborates a leading theory pertaining to the origins of life on Earth.
Both the research teams – one comprising astronomers Andrew Rivkin of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, and Joshua Emery of the University of Tennessee; and the other led by a University of Central Florida astronomer Humberto Campins - chose to examine the 120-mile-wide 24 Themis as it is one of the biggest and brightest asteroids in the main asteroid belt, lying between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter; and is thus one of the easiest to analyze.
The observations of both the research teams have been published online in the Wednesday edition of the journal Nature.
While Rivkin and Emery essentially looked at 24 Themis for the presence of hydrated minerals, commonly found on Earth as clay; Campins team chose to analyze the asteroid because of two smaller asteroids in the Themis family seemingly showing dust tails – a sign which is associated with ice-filled comets rather than the supposedly dry and rocky asteroids.
Noting that the findings surprisingly show that water ice on the surface of 24 Themis is “evenly distributed,” astronomer Henry Hsieh, of Queen’s University in Britain, said that the recent discovery “adds a new twist to ice and asteroids.”