Scientists have detected mysterious water on the surface of metal-rich asteroid “Psyche” — a stunning discovery given that water should not be there.
New research using NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility found evidence of water and hydroxyl on the asteroid’s surface. Such volatile substances shouldn’t be on Psyche’s surface and may indicate that water is considerably more common in the universe than astronomers thought.
“We did not expect a metallic asteroid like Psyche to be covered by water and/or hydroxyl,” Dr. Vishnu Reddy, the co-author of research who is an astronomer at the University of Arizona, told Universe Today. “Metal-rich asteroids like Psyche are thought to have formed under dry conditions without the presence of water or hydroxyl, so we were puzzled by our observations at first.”
The source of the water on Psyche remains a mystery. The most likely explanation is that the water might have been delivered by carbonaceous asteroids that impacted Psyche in the distant past.
Psyche is probably the largest metallic asteroid in the solar system and is 186 miles across. It likely consists of almost pure nickel-iron metal. NASA is already considering sending a mission to Psyche which could potentially be launched as soon as 2020.
Computer simulations of the formation of planets by astrophysicists at the University of Bern found that Earth-like planets containing large amounts of water are much more common and suited to life than previously believed.
Researchers found that such potentially habitable planets are roughly comparable in size to Earth and more likely around red dwarf stars, as well as “Goldilocks Zones,” the region around a star that has just the right conditions for liquid water. The astrophysicists suspect that an estimated 90 percent of these planets are at least 10 percent water by mass.
By comparison, Earth is .05 percent water by mass.
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