Hugh Pickens writes "The LA Times reports that scientists analyzing of infrared light reflected by 24 Themis, one of the largest asteroids in the solar system, have discovered evidence of water ice as well as organic compounds — findings that bolster a leading theory for the origins of life on Earth that the essential building blocks of life came from asteroids. "Up until now there was no sign that asteroids had any abundant organics or ice on them," says Joshua P. Emery, a planetary astronomer at the University of Tennessee. Typically, ice on the surface of an object such as 24 Themis would quickly vaporize and vanish, says planetary scientist Richard Binzel. "Seeing freshly exposed ice on the surface, now that's a surprise. It has to be replenished from below, somehow." The possibility that water could have come from asteroids adds weight to the theory that water and organic molecules may not have originated on Earth because the Earth did not become conducive to water or organic molecules until relatively recently. "In the Earth's early history, it was very hot liquid molten rock, and if the Earth had any organic molecules back then, they were burned in that stage of its evolution," says astronomer Humberto Campins. "As the crust solidifies, it is subsequent impacts with asteroids or comets that brought the building blocks of life." Beyond the scientific interest in ice on the asteroid's surface lies a practical one, adds Binzel. If asteroids rich in accessible water ice are common, they hold the potential of serving as oases for future astronauts during interplanetary trips."
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