(ORDO NEWS) — Trying to understand how the universe began, scientists have come close to one startling discovery thanks to samples collected from the surface of an asteroid. These samples, the researchers say, represent the most primitive (ancient) material ever found in terrestrial laboratories.
We are talking about samples from the surface of the asteroid Ryugu, which was studied by the Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa-2 from June 2018 to November 2019. In June of this year, JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) handed over to NASA some of the samples that were delivered to Earth just over a year ago.
Interestingly, it was an exchange deal. NASA received a sample of the asteroid Ryugu from JAXA in exchange for a sample of the asteroid Bennu, which will be delivered to Earth by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft in 2023 .
Note that Bennu is one of the few asteroids that pose a threat of collision with our planet, although the probability of this is very, very small. For example, the probability of a collision on September 24, 2182 is 0.037 percent.
Catastrophic predictions aside, asteroids are a treasure trove of rare materials that can help us understand what the young universe was like.
Analysis of Ryugu images
Having organized a relatively large exchange with NASA, JAXA did not forget about other scientists in the world, providing them with small samples of the asteroid. Thanks to the large-scale study of space material, we already have two studies that have been published in the scientific journal Nature: “The first analysis of the composition of Ryugu samples using the MicrOmega hyperspectral microscope” and “Preliminary analysis of the Hayabusa-2 samples returned from the C-type asteroid Ryugu ” .
The key takeaway is that the samples, which weigh only 5.4 grams, may be the oldest material scientists have ever examined. Physicochemical analysis of the rock sample shows that it has a composition close to that of rare meteorites: the particles are very porous, rich in carbon, and also hydrated minerals.
Further analysis also revealed something very unusual: Ryugu belongs to an extremely rare class of meteorites known as “CI chondrites”, of which only five, according to documented data, have touched the Earth’s surface . In addition, the density of Ryugu images is lower than that of any meteorite studied so far.
“Imagine if you could remove all the gas from the Sun and leave only a small amount of other elements … then you would have CI chondrites,” said study co-author Trevor Ireland.
One article mentions that the presence of volatile-rich elements in the samples indicates that the parent body originated outside the solar system .
More importantly, the samples could have preserved primitive material in its original state, as well as its forms that went through various phases of evolution. Ryugu comes from a class of carbon or C-type asteroids, and likely contains the material of the nebula that gave birth to the Sun and all objects in the solar system billions of years ago. Scientists have not yet determined the exact age of the samples, but what is really remarkable is that they reflect about 2-3 percent of the incident light and absorb the rest.
The analyzes carried out have so far been limited to optical microscopy and spectroscopy, but future chemical tests will reveal more about the samples and help to understand the nature of the origin of the most ancient objects in the solar system.
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