New Evidence Points to a Water-and-Organics-Rich Universe

Spitzer091808 The Spitzer Space Telescope has provided astronomers a ringside seat on chemical reaction that is  breaking apart water molecules on a stellar scale thanks to a very young star. The red color at the end of the lower jet to the left represents shock-heated iron, sulfur and dust, while the blue color in both jets denotes shock-heated hydrogen molecules.

This past April, two teams of researchers discovered the first-ever evidence of water ice and organic molecules riding around the solar system aboard an asteroid.


The same group recently reported that it found ice and organics on a second, larger asteroid as well, a finding that suggests water ice and organic molecules may be common passengers aboard asteroids throughout the solar system.

Asteroid 65 Cybele, a resident of the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, has been found to be harboring both water and organic molecules, which are of course the building blocks of life, suggesting -along with 24 Themis discovered in April- watery asteroids could be quite common in our solar system.

The discovery is significant news, scientists now have to re-evaluate the way they’ve been differentiating and classifying asteroids and comets – asteroids are generally viewed as rocky while comets are perceived as icy – and revisit the theory that asteroid impacts are what seeded Earth with the ingredients for life, a theory that is reinforced by this discovery. If asteroid locked water ice is orbiting the solar system in huge volumes on the other side of Mars, the asteroid belt could become a deep space watering hole for future manned mission to the farthest regions of the solar system and beyond.

Jason McManus via NASA and popsci.com

"The Galaxy" in Your Inbox, Free, Daily