(ORDO NEWS) — Two years ago, the Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa 2 delivered a special cargo to Earth: samples of material collected from the asteroid Ryugu.
Analysis of a few precious grams of soil from the surface and interior of the asteroid has provided a fresh look at the past of the Earth and the entire solar system.
An international team of scientists led by Dr. Marine Paquet and Dr. Frédéric Moynier from the Institute of Physics of the Globe in Paris studied the composition of the samples.
They were especially interested in the isotopic characteristics of zinc and copper. Each chemical element is presented in several variants depending on the number of neutrons in its nucleus.
This does not change its chemical properties, but it does change its physical properties because the isotopes have different masses. Some isotopes are unstable and decay after a while.
Thus, the isotope ratio becomes the chemical fingerprint of the materials. This tells us not only about the current composition, but also about how asteroids and meteorites were formed.
As for the Ryugu asteroid, the team confirmed that the isotopic signature of copper and zinc makes it look like the Ivuna meteorite.
The Ivuna meteorite fell in Tanzania on December 16, 1938 and is part of the CI group of carbonaceous chondrites.
There are only nine of them in the world, which makes them one of the rarest. They are thought to have formed in the outer solar system and eventually migrated inward.
Ryugu showed similarities in composition to other carbonaceous chondrites, so the researchers wondered if another type might be a better fit.
It turned out that the composition of zinc and copper makes them different from each other.
For this reason, scientists have chosen these elements to conduct a test confirming the association with CI chondrites.
The fact that Ryugu materials can be considered intact allows scientists to figure out the composition of the early solar system.
Meteorites from asteroids that formed closer to the Sun have a different composition than Ryugu, while the Earth has a different composition, somewhere in between.
The researchers found that an asteroid like Ryugu should have made up about six percent of the Earth’s mass.
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