back to article Signs of ground ice found on ancient protoplanet asteroid Vesta

Scientists have found evidence that there may be ground ice on Vesta, the brightest asteroid visible from Earth. It’s not the first time that ice has been detected on space rocks, and it adds credibility to the idea that asteroids may have brought water to Earth’s oceans. As asteroids crashed into Earth, the impact would have …

  1. Chris G Silver badge

    Ground Ice

    Can they detect traces of mint? Because it sounds like someone up there has a penchant for mojitos.

    It does seem logical that at least some of the water on Earth would originate from comet or asteroid strikes if there are icy rocks out there now, there must have been a lot more of them when Earth was forming so a fair few must have been swept up by Earth.

    1. MyffyW Silver badge

      Re: Ground Ice

      Shurely the ice is a left over from a marathon Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster session at the ground breaking ceremony for the new Vogon-constructed hyperspatial express route?

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: Ground Ice

        You're both wrong. The ice is left over from the freeze-drying process. Which means that the remainder of the "asteroid" is in fact a giant dehydrated curry.

        It turns out that the Vesta company in the 70s must have had access to primitive space technology, in order to mine this curry substance, and bring it back to Earth in order to disappoint hungry English people.

        Sadly, despite having space technology, Vesta hadn't bothered with flavour technology...

        1. Rich 11 Silver badge

          Re: Ground Ice

          Sadly, despite having space technology, Vesta hadn't bothered with flavour technology...

          Quite true. Despite not having eaten a Vesta curry since my very distant student days, your comment instantly brought to mind the sensation of the texture of Vesta beef and noodles, but absolutely no sensation of its taste.

          1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

            Re: Ground Ice

            Rich 11,

            Those things really did have a texture all of their own. Shudder! They were truly awful, especially as there'd always be one random pea or something that didn't re-hydrate - and so was like eating a bullet. Like the last kernels of un-popped popcorn, lurking at the bottom of the bag in order to break your teeth.

            My memory is that the curry was truly dire, but that at least one of the Chinese ones was vaguely edible. Though didn't taste of much. But did come with crispy noodles. So you at least got the good honest taste of the fat you deep fried them in. They were the only actually nice bit. Plus it's just fun, sticking a handful of tiny flat noodly things into boiling oil, and watching them puff up into things that look like Quavers, in seconds.

            I suddenly thought, after I'd posted, that nobody would remember Vesta's finest contribution to our culinary life. But I should have guessed there's enough old codgers round here. Now we need to find an explanation for where those Fray Bentos pies in tins came from.

            1. Sweep

              Re: Ground Ice

              They really do look like Quavers...


              1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

                Re: Ground Ice


                Oh God! They still sell them! But £3.79!!!!!!!!!! How the fuck has this thing got 5 star reviews?

                Love this food been eating it since the 1970s. Tastes as good as always. Highly recommended for its high quality.

                That I'm prepared to believe. However, that's not exactly saying much. And I'm not sure what levels of insanity you need to be suffering to be recommending it for its high quality.

                But yup, it was the Chow Mein that I ate when I were a student. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. But for that money, you can buy a proper supermarket ready meal. I mean, I'm sure it won't be the best meal you've ever eaten, but at least it's actual food.

            2. MyffyW Silver badge

              Re: Ground Ice

              Fray Bentos pie with Cadburys Smash potato.

              Give me a small bottle of Unigate milk and I've been transported back to the 1970s.

              Watch out, watch out, there's a Humphrey about

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Ground Ice

            When doing our Duke of Edinburgh award practice, my mum thought it would be good for me to take a Vesta Chow Mein.

            Fortuantely, I convinced her to go to an actual outdoor supplies store when it came to doing the actual expedition, I don't think I would have survived on the Vesta.

            Oh, and yes, it is even worse (if that's possible) when cooked on a camping stove.

  2. ma1010

    I prefer my ice in cubes

    and I've heard of crushed ice, but I suppose you could grid it up, too. But I doubt it's for mojitos; surely the ice is for making ginnantonix. Different species, different preferences, I suppose. Make mine a double, please!

  3. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    In principle an asteroid is easier to land on

    In fact given it's surface gravity is almost zero it'd be more like a docking than a landing,

    Of course the question remains, how deep is it?

    Excellent work though, although it does still seem a bit circumstantial to me.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  4. Mark 85 Silver badge

    Water from comets or asteroids?

    If, the asteroids are the remains of a planet that broke up as has been speculated, it's entirely possible that water is a feature on many planets, not just earth. Did the water on Earth occur as a part of planet building (and also other planets)? Or did the water need to come from someplace else?

    Just some questions on my part as it seems a bit too Earth-centric to assume that this is the only planet with water.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Water from comets or asteroids?

      It probably came from the outer solar system.

      When the sun and its accretion disk were first forming up, the radiation from the new central star created a radial heat gradient across the disk. Presumably the original material was fairly homogeneous and contained its share of primordial elements and simple compounds. Water was no doubt very common because hydrogen and oxygen are both plentiful elements.

      So the disk was full of ices and minerals, but the sun quickly drove the icy, low melting point volatiles from the inner disk via heating, out to the "frost line" where it was cool enough for ice to remain ice. Then the rocky planets accreted from the remnants: silicate minerals and metals. After that, the water was delivered to the young Earth from the outer system by some undetermined means (whatever Jupiter didn't eat, anyway), and it was trapped there by high gravity and a thick atmosphere.

      That's the most popular theory, anyway.

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: Water from comets or asteroids?

        @Big John - that all assumes the sun started to shine long before the earth was formed (along with its water). The maths is easier if we assume the accretion disc was a uniform disc but given its quite possible that it was not a uniform disk or gravitational collapse was locally accelerated due to shock waves from a nearby supernova it's all a bit 'best guess' and not, IMHO, best science.

        The 'most popular theory' is a good solution to the problem - but there are many more.

    2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: Water from comets or asteroids?

      If I'm not mistaken, most comets and asteroids are just the cooled-down clumps of residue from the original disc from which our Solar System sprang into being, not the result of planets crashing into each other.

      The inner asteroid belt between Venus and Jupiter could have been a planet, but the material could not coalesce properly because of the gravitational influence between Jupiter and the inner planets.

      As for the material in the Oort Cloud, there may be a planet lurking out there, but most of the material is likely just small clumps that never made planet-size either.

    3. jmch Silver badge

      Re: Water from comets or asteroids?

      Also: "asteroids may have brought water to Earth’s oceans. As asteroids crashed into Earth, the impact would have melted the icy deposits, leaving large pools of water"

      How many asteroids would have needed to crash into Earth to provide the volume of all the Earth's oceans?

      1. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

        Re: Water from comets or asteroids?

        Estimated ass of the asteroid belt is about 3e21kg, 4% that of the moon. Mass of oceans is about 1.4e21 kg. If all the water turned up from asteroids, that's an awful lot of asteroids. Lets say they were 50% water back in the day, that's the entire volume of the current asteroid belt hitting us to supply enough water.

        I have to admit when I started this reply I thought that was bollocks, but I suppose in a much lumpier early solar system those numbers aren't beyond belief. It would have made life on earth at the time a little awkward, glad I wasn't about.

        1. jmch Silver badge

          Re: Water from comets or asteroids?

          @ Androgynous Cupboard

          Thanks for the (rough) maths. Doing some of my own, estimates of Earth's crust formation are 4.6 billion years ago and estimates of ocean formation are of 3.8 billion years ago. So most of that water landed on Earth in an 800 million year window, ie 1.75 trillion kg/year of water. I would think that water concentrations in asteroids even back then would have been considerably less than 50%. Even with a quite high estimate of 10%, that's 17 trillion tons of asteroid falling every year.

          Now where's my umbrella?

          1. annodomini2

            Re: Water from comets or asteroids?

            There's also the water trapped in rocks so it's not exclusive that it came from comets.

            Also chemical reactions can also create water.

            Earth could have made it's own water

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Water from comets or asteroids?

      "Did the water on Earth occur as a part of planet building (and also other planets)? Or did the water need to come from someplace else?"

      Water would have been fairly evenly distributed amongst the stuff from which the Solar System formed and it also seems probable that the inner planets were at least partially formed by the time that Sol ignited because the solar pressure from Sol, after its ignition, would have prevented or disrupted their formation. Thus, it seems likely that Earth, and the other inner planets, would have already possessed as much water as anything else in the solar system when and as they formed.

      Furthermore, if Earth acquired water from asteroid and cometary impacts then the vast majority of this would have arrived during the Late Heavy Bombardment, from about 4.1 to 3.8 billion years ago, but the earliest zircons found indicate that Earth already had surface water about 4.4 billion years ago. And whilst the asteroid and cometary impacts during the LHB would have delivered water to Earth, the high-energy nature of those impacts would have meant that a quite a bit of that water in those asteroids and comets would have been turned to free vapour by the impact and lost to space.

      It seems then, that the asteroid and cometary impacts would have delivered some of Earth's water but didn't supply the majority of it.

  5. R Soles

    A bit late

    "Beams of radio waves are sent down to Vesta, and the signals are reflected back and decoded by scientists working at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory."

    In fact, Dawn left Vesta in September 2012 and is currently in orbit around Ceres

    1. alferdpacker

      Re: A bit late

      Oppressing the OPA no doubt. Damn Earthers!

    2. Scroticus Canis

      Re: A bit late

      It appears it took them some time to interpret the data.

      The linked article was first presented for publication in June 2016 and has just recently been included as a published article.

  6. Matthew 17

    What would stop the water evaporating when it hit the Earth

    Surely the asteroids would get quite hot.

    I'm sure there was another process that created the water, a lot of trapped hydrogen igniting for example? Why does it have to come from elsewhere?

    1. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

      Re: What would stop the water evaporating when it hit the Earth

      It would definitely evaporate during entry, but it would be trapped by gravity in the atmosphere. When the density got too high it would condense and fall as rain. Same net effect.

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