Building blocks of life have been discovered on an asteroid in space for the very first time

For the first time, scientists have found the building blocks of life on an asteroid in space.

Japanese researchers have discovered more than 20 amino acids on the space rock Ryugu, located more than 200 million miles (320 million kilometers) from Earth.

Scientists made the first detection of its kind by studying samples recovered from the near-Earth asteroid by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Hayabusa2 spacecraft, which landed on Ryugu in 2018.

In 2019, the spacecraft collected 0.2 ounces (5.4 grams) from the asteroid’s surface and subsoil, stored it in an airtight container, and returned it to Earth on a refined trajectory. .

Related: We’ll Finally Know Why Spinning Top Asteroid Ryugu Is Such A Weird Shape

Rather than being one big boulder, Ryugu is made up of many smaller rocks, and the asteroid got its unusual spinning top shape from rapid rotation, scientists say.

As a carbonaceous or C-type asteroid, Ryugu contains a large amount of carbon-rich organic matter, much of which likely originated from the same nebula that gave rise to the Sun and the planets of the solar system about 4 years ago. .6 billion years. . Previous sample analyzes have also suggested that the asteroid harbors water.

“Ryugu material is the most primitive material from the solar system that we have ever studied,” said Hisayoshi Yurimoto, professor of geosciences at Hokkaido University and leader of the initial chemical analysis team for the Hayabusa2 mission. , while describing the first discoveries at Lunar and Planetary. Scientific conference in March.

(Yada et al., natural astronomy2021)

Unlike organic molecules found on Earth, the pitch-black asteroid samples, which scientists say reflect only 2-3% of the light that hits them, were not altered by interactions with the planet. Earth’s environment, giving them a chemical composition much closer to that of the early solar system.

“We detected various prebiotic organic compounds in the samples, including proteinogenic amino acids, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons similar to terrestrial petroleum, and various nitrogen compounds,” said Hiroshi Naraoka, planetary scientist at Kyushu University and head of the team that searched for organic matter. in samples, said at the conference.

“These prebiotic organic molecules can spread throughout the solar system, potentially as interplanetary dust from Ruygu’s surface through impact or other causes.”

Initially, analysis of the samples detected 10 types of amino acids, but now the number has jumped to more than 20, according to Japan’s Ministry of Education. Amino acids are the fundamental building blocks of all proteins and are essential prerequisites for the existence of life on our planet.

A 2019 study in the journal Geochemistry and Cosmochemistry Acta found organic space molecules in a group of 3.3 billion-year-old rocks discovered in South Africa, raising the possibility that some – if not all – of these life-saving molecules may have arrived for the first time on Earth on comets and asteroids. Ryugu’s findings prove that asteroids carry these even stronger molecules.

“Proving that amino acids exist in the subsoil of asteroids increases the likelihood that the compounds arrived on Earth from space,” Kensei Kobayashi, professor emeritus of astrobiology at Yokohama National University, told Kyodo. News.

This means that amino acids could likely be found on other planets and natural satellites – a hint that “life could have originated in more places in the Universe than previously thought”, he said. he adds.

Researchers continue to analyze samples from Ryugu, and more data on the asteroid’s formation and composition will soon become available.

And Ryugu isn’t the only space rock under investigation. In 2021, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft collected a rock sample from another diamond-shaped asteroid, named Bennu.

When the sample returns to Earth in 2023, the signs of organic matter it contains could provide scientists with important clues about the evolution of the solar system and its materials, as well as how life emerged from it.

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This article was originally published by Live Science. Read the original article here.

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