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Judi Lynn

(160,452 posts)
Fri Feb 16, 2024, 04:23 PM Feb 16

Scientists Detect Water on the Surface of Asteroids for the First Time Ever [View all]

Using data from a retired NASA mission, researchers identified unique signs of water molecules on two space rocks, unlocking new insight into how water may have arrived on Earth

Catherine Duncan
Staff Contributor

February 16, 2024 1:09 p.m.

Data from the retired Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), a joint venture between NASA and the German Space Agency, led scientists to their discovery. NASA / Carla Thomas / SwRI

In a cosmic first, scientists have discovered water on the surface of two asteroids. The findings, published Monday in The Planetary Science Journal, chart new territory in understanding how the life-sustaining molecule is distributed throughout the solar system—and hint at how it ended up on Earth.

Scientists at the Southwest Research Institute detected the water molecules using data collected by the now-defunct Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), a Boeing airplane modified to carry a telescope that made its final flight in 2022.

Previously, other researchers used an instrument on SOFIA to examine particular wavelengths of light, called spectral signatures, emitted by molecules on the moon. In 2020, they spotted a specific wavelength unique to water molecules, revealing enough water on the moon’s sunlit surface to fill a 12-ounce bottle.

Inspired by this research, “we thought we could use SOFIA to find this spectral signature on other bodies,” says Anicia Arredondo, lead author of the new study and an asteroid researcher at the Southwest Research Institute, in a statement.


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