Science

There’s an asteroid coming Deep Impact-levels of close to Earth

There’s an asteroid coming Deep Impact-levels of close to Earth”

Itokawa, having been in its current state for 8 million years, has been subject to multiple impacts, shocks and fragmentation. These would raise the temperature of the minerals and drive off water, researchers said.

That's about as close as some of the spacecraft or satellites that now orbit the Earth are, NASA said in a news release Monday. Questions that are being discussed at the 2019 Planetary Defense Conference going on right now include how Earth's gravity will affect the asteroid's orbit, what to do in case it ventures too close, and whether we can learn more about the innards of an asteroid from this event.

At some point in history, Itokawa broke off from another asteroid that was at least 12 miles wide and ranged from 1,000 to 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit. It circles the Sun every 18 months at an average distance of 1.3 times the Earth-Sun distance. The samples came from asteroid Itokawa and were collected by the Japanese space probe Hayabusa. According to Margaret Bunson, author of Encyclopaedia of Ancient Egypt, the destructive spirit was said to live in the celestial waters of Nile. I'm happy to report that our hunch paid off.

I and my postdoc Ziliang Jin analyzed grains of the mineral pyroxene from an asteroid called Itokawa, which is the first asteroid that humankind ever sampled.

In terrestrial samples, pyroxenes have water in their crystal structure. Bose and Jin suspected that the Itokawa particles might also have traces of water, but they wanted to know exactly how much.

We used a device called a mass spectrometer, specifically the NanoSIMS, to measure water and D/H ratios in the Itokawa samples. Working with samples provided by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, scientists have discovered that despite Itokawa's tumultuous history, this rubble-pile asteroid still contains significant amounts of water in its minerals. These small bodies may be considered the fundamental building blocks of planets, bringing water and other materials like organics to the planets. "It's an area on the asteroid that's smooth and dust-covered".

It was launched in May 2003 and landed on the asteroid on November 2005 to collect samples in the form of tiny grains. "But our best guess is that they were buried more than 100 meters deep within it", Jin added. "We'll observe the asteroid with both optical and radar telescopes".

Bose said the finding "makes these asteroids high-priority targets for exploration". In fact, they're the second-most common type of asteroid in our Solar System.

Cristina Thomas, an assistant professor from Northern Arizona University who was not involved in the study, said that the latest results were a "real game-changer" for how we think about water in the inner Solar System.

The study also hypothesizes that water could have similarly been produced on other rocky exoplanets in the same way.

Please follow Astrobiology on Twitter.



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