Asteroid samples brought to Earth contain key molecules for life

A canister containing a sample of Ryugu, donated to NASA by the Japanese space agency JAXA.

A canister containing a sample of Ryugu, donated to NASA by the Japanese space agency JAXA.
Photo: NASA/Robert Markowitz

Japan’s Ministry of Education says more than 20 types of amino acids were detected in samples from an asteroid that was brought to Earth in December 2020, The Japan Times reports. The detection is the first evidence that amino acids exist on asteroids in space and has implications for understanding how these vital organic molecules arrived on Earth.

The Hayabusa2 spacecraft collected samples from a asteroid named Ryugu. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) probe landed on Ryugu, nearly 200 million kilometers from Earth.in 2019and he collected about 5.4 grams of samples from the surface and subsurface of the asteroid.

Ryugu is a carbon-rich fragment of a larger asteroid that formed from the same gas and dust that gave way to our solar system. Due to their age, the dust and rocks from Ryugu’s surface offer scientists a glimpse into the material that floated around in the early solar system more than 4 billion years ago.

At Lunar and Planetary Science Conference held in Texas in March, Hisayoshi Yurimoto, a geoscientist at Japan’s Hokkaido University and a member of the Hayabusa2 team, described the distant asteroid as “the most primitive solar system material we’ve ever studied.” according to Space.com.

Today’s news reveals the sheer number of amino acids on the deep space rock, which Hayabusa2 team members believe could be spreading through the solar system as interplanetary dust.

The asteroid Ryugu.

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, making them essential organic molecules for life. ancient rocks on earth offered evidence that molecules similar to those found on Ryugu arrived here billions of years ago.

“Our end goal is to understand how organic compounds formed in the extraterrestrial environment,” said Hiroshi Naraoka, a geochemist at Kyushu University in Japan and a member of the Hayabusa2 team, in a 2020 study. NASA Release. “So we want to analyze many organic compounds, including amino acids, sulfur compounds, and nitrogen compounds, to build a history of the types of organic synthesis that occur in asteroids.”

It’s possible that such essential organic molecules arrived on Earth through comet and asteroid impacts, and Ryugu’s samples have now proven that these molecules exist on asteroids in space. This is important because asteroid and comet impacts on Earth are almost immediately contaminated with terrestrial material, which can make it difficult for scientists to separate what was still on the rock from what recently contaminated it. .

As more data from samples from Ryugu is analyzed, we will gain more information about the composition of the asteroid and how it formed. By comparing the results of the Ryugu hardware to the samples taken at Bennuan asteroid visited by NASA in 2020, we will better understand the different chemical cocktails in the cosmos, and perhaps how life was born from them.

More: Asteroid Sample Brought To Earth Exposes Ryugu’s Hidden Interior

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