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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, April 29, 2010

Icy coating spotted on asteroid


Associated Press

NEW YORK Scientists using the infrared telescope on Mauna Kea have found lots of life-essential water frozen as ice in an unexpected place in our solar system: an asteroid between Mars and Jupiter.

The discovery of significant asteroid ice could help explain where early Earth first got its water. It also makes asteroids more attractive to explore, dovetailing with President Obama's announcement earlier this month that astronauts should visit an asteroid.

This asteroid has an extensive but thin frosty coating. It is likely replenished by an extensive reservoir of frozen water deep inside rock once thought to be dry and desolate, scientists report in two studies in today's issue of the journal Nature.

Two teams of scientists used NASA's infra-red telescope on Mauna Kea to look at an asteroid called 24 Themis, one of the bigger rocks in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. They examined light waves bouncing off the rock and found the distinct chemical signature of ice.

Scientists also found organic molecules, similar to what may have started life on Earth, said University of Central Florida astronomy professor Humberto Campins.

"This asteroid holds clues to our past and how the solar system and water on Earth may have originated," Campins said.