Asteroidal atmospheres: a new subject area

Wright, I. P.; Barber, S. J.; Sheridan, Simon; Morgan, G. H.; Andrews, D. J.; Pillinger, C. T. and Morse, A. D. (2011). Asteroidal atmospheres: a new subject area. In: 74th Annual Meeting of the Meteoritical Society, 8-12 Aug 2011, London, UK.



A few years ago the Moon was widely thought to be a dry, barren place. Today, with results from both spacecraft observations [e.g. 1] and laboratory analyses [e.g. 2], the regolith of the Moon is considered to contain a number of different forms of water at various levels of concentrations (up to % levels). Indeed, it is now commonplace to talk about a lunar hydrosphere and its associated water cycle. One component of this arises from a substance that is seen to come and go [3], known as “space dew” [4], which is most likely to be the result of an interaction between the solar wind (H) and the lunar surface (O). It is a short step to postulate that an equivalent effect would also be associated with the surfaces of asteroidal bodies. And, by extension, these would also have atmospheres (perhaps more accurately considered as exospheres, although if cycling of dew at the surface of the Moon is a reality then perhaps “exosphere” is semantically incorrect). This would be on top of the large volumes of water that are already considered to exist within the upper layers of large bodies like Ceres, and as prominent surface deposits on asteroids such as 24 Themis.

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