Amino acids found in asteroid samples collected by Japan’s Hayabusa2 probe

More than 20 types of amino acids have been detected in samples Japan’s Hayabusa2 space probe brought to Earth from an asteroid in late 2020, an official said Monday.

The discovered acids are very important substances for living beings and could hold clues to understand the origins of life, said the official from the Ministry of Education.

In December 2020, a capsule that had been carried on a six-year mission by Hayabusa2 delivered over 5.4 grams of surface material to Earth from the asteroid Ryugu, located over 300 million kilometers away.

File photo shows asteroid Ryugu photographed by Hayabusa2 in November 2019. (Photo courtesy of JAXA) (Kyodo)

The Ryugu probe aimed to unravel the mysteries of the origin of the solar system and of life. Previous analysis of the samples had suggested the presence of water and organic matter.

The full-fledged sample survey was launched in 2021 by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and research institutes nationwide, including the University of Tokyo and the University of Hiroshima.

Amino acids are substances that make proteins and are essential for life.

Although it is unknown how amino acids arrived on ancient Earth, one theory says they were brought by meteorites, with amino acids being detected in a meteorite found on Earth. But it is also possible that they were attached to the ground.

The file photo shows samples brought to Earth by the Hayabusa2 space probe from the asteroid Ryugu. (Photo courtesy of JAXA)(Kyodo)

Hayabusa2 delivered the underground materials to Earth without being exposed to outside air after collecting the samples that had not been altered by sunlight or cosmic rays.

A capsule used to send asteroid samples to Earth from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Hayabusa2 space probe is on public display at the Sagamihara City Museum in Kanagawa Prefecture on March 12, 2021. (Kyodo)

The discovery of amino acids showed for the first time that they exist on an asteroid in space.

Hayabusa2 left Earth in 2014 and reached its stationary position above Ryugu in June 2018 after traveling 3.2 billion km in an elliptical orbit around the sun for more than three years.

The probe touched down on the asteroid twice the following year, collecting the first ever subterranean samples from an asteroid.


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