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Is there Ice in the Interior of Near-Earth Objects?

Resource recovery at an NEO

There is great interest in mining Near Earth Objects (NEOs) for their water (above), and understanding how water was delivered to Earth and how much ice is left in the asteroid belt. Since NEOs come from the main asteroid belt and reside for only ~10 Myr before being removed by planetary encounters and perturbations, how much ice could remain in their interiors in their main belt source regions? Work by PSI scientists Norbert Schörghofer and Henry Hsieh models the temperatures of asteroid interiors and determines the time over which sublimated water would diffuse through porous material (below). They conclude that nearly all bodies ~10 km in size or larger in the outer belt should have been able to retain ice over the age of the solar system, where some of that ice could potentially be quite close to the surface in some cases. Ice could also be preserved in fragments from recent collisions with ice rich bodies, producing smaller bodies that are still ice-rich. Since this region is thought to provide ~8% of NEOs, then at least that fraction should contain water ice in their interiors and offer targets for asteroid mining and in-situ resource utilization.

Interior temperatures of asteroids

July 29, 2018
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