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Possible water on largest solar system asteroid

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16Psyche (Lightcurve Inversion).png
16 Psyche computed via light curve inversion/Josef Ďurech, Vojtěch Sidorin

From Astronomical Journal:

In order to search for evidence of hydration on M-type asteroid (16) Psyche, we observed this object in the 3 micron spectral region using the long-wavelength cross-dispersed (LXD: 1.9-4.2 micron) mode of the SpeX spectrograph/imager at the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility (IRTF). Our observations show that Psyche exhibits a 3 micron absorption feature, attributed to water or hydroxyl. The 3 micron absorption feature is consistent with the hydration features found on the surfaces of water-rich asteroids, attributed to OH- and/or H2O-bearing phases (phyllosilicates). The detection of a 3 micron hydration absorption band on Psyche suggests that this asteroid may not be metallic core, or it could be a metallic core that has been impacted by carbonaceous material over the past 4.5 Gyr. Our results also indicate rotational spectral variations, which we suggest reflect heterogeneity in the metal/silicate ratio on the surface of Psyche. – Driss Takir, Vishnu Reddy, Juan Sanchez, Michael K. Shepard, Joshua Emery More.

From United States Geological Survey:

The asteroid, called Psyche, is 186 miles across and is made of almost pure nickel-iron metal. It is thought to be the remnant core of a planetary embryo that was mostly destroyed by impacts billions of years ago.

Previous observations of Psyche had shown no evidence for water-rich minerals on its surface. However, new observations from the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility in Hawaii show evidence for water and/or hydroxyl on its surface. Results are published in The Astronomical Journal.

While the source of these water molecules on Psyche remains a mystery, scientists propose a few possible mechanisms for their formation. It is possible that water-rich minerals detected on Psyche might have been delivered to its surface by carbonaceous asteroids that impacted Psyche in the distant past.

See also: World’s largest telescope to hunt for alien life

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