London, April 29 (ANI): Scientists analysing ice molecules on an asteroid believe it may be a 'living fossil' with clues to origin of Earth's oceans.
Researchers at the University of Central Florida discovered a thin layer of water ice and organic molecules on the surface of 24 Themis, the largest member of the Themis asteroid family orbiting between Mars and Jupiter.
Lead author and UCF Physics Professor HumbertoCampins said: "What we've found suggests that an asteroid like this one may have hit Earth and brought our planet its water."
According to some theories, asteroids brought water to Earth after the planet formed dry.
Scientists say the salts and water that have been found in some meteorites support this view.
Using NASA's Infrared Telescope Facility in Hawaii, Campins and his team of researchers measured the intensity of the reflected sunlight as 24 Themis rotated.
Differences in intensity at different wavelengths helped researchers determine the makeup of the asteroid's surface.
Researchers were surprised to find ice and carbon-based compounds evenly distributed on 24 Themis.
The discovery of ice is unexpected because surface ice should be short lived on asteroids, which are expected to be too warm for ice to survive for long.
The distance between this asteroid and the sun is about three times greater than between Earth and the sun.
While scientists will continue testing various hypotheses to explain the presence of ice, the most promising possibility perhaps is that 24 Themis might have preserved the ice in its subsoil, just below the surface, as a kind of "living fossil" or remnant of an early solar system that was generally considered to have disappeared long ago.
The findings will appear in the journal Nature. (ANI)