Japan Finds Traces of Organic Matter on an Asteroid, The Building Blocks of Life on Earth

Appearance of Ryugu grains 6 photos
Photo: JAXA
Appearance of Ryugu grainsThermal history of the ice precursor of asteroid RyuguOccurrence of the polyhedral magnetite particlesAqueous alteration processes within the ice precursorDynamics of the surface layer of the comet nucleus due to sublimation
Back in 2014, the Japanese space agency (JAXA) launched something called Hayabusa2. We’re talking about a sample return spacecraft aimed at getting to near-Earth asteroid 162173 Ryugu, snatching a piece of it, and returning it back to Earth.
The spacecraft reached its target in 2018, and then headed back home, where it arrived in 2020. It dropped the samples and moved on to a new target asteroid, 1998 KY, which it should reach in 2031.

As soon as the Ryugu samples arrived on Earth, scientists from Japan started analyzing them, to see what's there. This week, the first results were made public, and they paint a picture that makes this entire asteroid sample return movement the world seems to have embraced worthwhile.

The long paper published by JAXA on the research (and available here) is beautifully compressed by the agency into a single sentence, that forms the title of the piece: “Ryugu may have originated from a comet nucleus that contained amino acids needed for life on Earth."

You see, a long, long time ago Ryugu was part of an icy body floating in the outer Solar System, a formation several tens of kilometers in size that eventually moved into near-Earth orbit and started transforming itself in the asteroid we know today.

The sample brought back by Hayabusa2 and analyzed, a mere “16 grains,” was subjected to a geochemical analysis, and that revealed the sample “retains evidence of complex physico-chemical processes that occurred from before the formation of the Solar System through to the present.” More to the point, we’re even talking about amino acids and other micron-sized organic matter “associated with the origin of life.”

This coming weekend, we’ll have an extensive look at what exactly the Japanese have discovered, so keep an eye out for more on the subject. Until then, you might wanna brush up on your knowledge about panspermia.
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About the author: Daniel Patrascu
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Daniel loves writing (or so he claims), and he uses this skill to offer readers a "behind the scenes" look at the automotive industry. He also enjoys talking about space exploration and robots, because in his view the only way forward for humanity is away from this planet, in metal bodies.
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