Mapping Water in the Outer Asteroid Belt - Origins of Life

Student: David Dorf

Major: Astrophysics, Physics, and Systems Engineering

Mentors: Dr. George Chartas

Department: Physics and Astronomy

Mapping Water in the Outer Asteroid Belt - Origins of Life

Water played a fundamental role in the emergence of life. Understanding its distribution and behavior in the solar system helps constrain the dynamical and chemical evolution of the solar system and the possible source regions for Earth's water. However, the extent and form of water on asteroids is not well known largely because observational data at key heliocentric distances dominated by Cybele and Hilda asteroids are meager. Our study seeks to answer these problems by conducting the largest comprehensive search for water at a key theoretical transition distance between once-liquid and perpetually frozen water ice. Though many Hilda and Cybele spectra have been published, only 10 adequately explore the water bands. A reliable detection and characterization of water on asteroids ideally covers both the 3.0 µm water absorption band, which is always seen when water is present but very difficult to image, and the 0.7 µm hydrated mineral band, which is easier to detect but not always present on asteroids known to have a 3.0 µm water band. As part of our efforts to characterize water on Hilda and Cybele asteroids, we are taking spectral observations of at least 4 asteroids this semester from 0.35-1.0 microns using the Las Cumbres Observatory. This data will allow us to identify and model the 0.4- and 0.7-micron hydrated mineral bands and assess how much melted water ice existed on the surfaces of our targets. This project opens up new possibilities for a further analysis on the origins of life on our planet.