Asteroid samples indicate that space rocks brought ingredients for life on Earth

Scientists have confirmed that organic molecules are present in samples taken from the Ryugu asteroid, which adds credibility to the idea that the ingredients for life came to Earth through the collision of meteorites and asteroids.

Ryugu is a primordial Carboniferous asteroid, a rocky leftover from the formation of the solar system over 4 billion years ago. Japan’s Hayabusa2 mission visited Ryugu and collected surface samples in 2019, providing us with a fascinating way to see what the early solar system looked like.

A team of researchers has now identified hundreds of thousands of ionic signals from Ryugu’s samples, which they attribute to numerous organic molecules, including 15 amino acids, amines, aromatic hydrocarbons and other compounds. their research published in science.

“The presence of prebiotic molecules on the asteroid surface despite its harsh environment caused by solar heating and ultraviolet radiation, as well as cosmic ray irradiation under high vacuum conditions, indicates that the upper surface Ryugu grains have the potential to protect organic molecules,” said Hiroshi Naraoka, a scientist. planetary at Kyushu University in Japan and the paper’s lead author, at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center launch.

Naraoka added, “These particles can be transported throughout the solar system, and are likely to disperse as interplanetary dust particles after being ejected from the asteroid’s upper layer by impacts or other reasons.”

A long-standing question in biochemistry is how the building blocks of life, such as amino acids, got to Earth. Organic molecules such as amino acids and nucleotides have been found before in meteorites that have fallen to Earth, but they are inevitably contaminated by the terrestrial environments in which they land.

This makes Ryugu Discovery special. Japan Aerospace Agency (JAXA) Hayabusa2 picked up clumps of dust, grit, and gas from the Ryugu asteroid In 2019, when it was roughly 200 million miles from Earth. The mission brought back about 5.4 grams of asteroid samples (about a teaspoon equals) to Earth in 2020.

A graphic showing the organic molecules found in Ryugu.

The research team noted that Ryugu’s samples were exposed to space and the conditions that go with it, from the impacts of micrometeorites to heating from the Sun. “The presence of prebiotic molecules on the surface of the asteroid indicates that these molecules could be transported throughout the solar system,” the team writes in their new paper.

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission is currently on its way back from the asteroid Bennu, where it conducted a similar sampling exercise.

Study co-author Jason Durkin, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said in the release.

“OSIRIS-REx is expected to bring back much more sample mass than Bennu and will provide another important opportunity to search for the organic building blocks of life in a carbon-rich asteroid,” Dworkin added.

Comparing the chemical composition of two asteroids will reveal similarities and differences between the two rocks and help scientists fill in gaps in our understanding of the formation of the solar system.

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