Building blocks of life were first discovered on an asteroid in space

(ORDO NEWS) — For the first time, scientists have found the building blocks for life on an asteroid in space.

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

Scientists made the first-of-its-kind detection by examining samples taken from a near-Earth asteroid by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) spacecraft Hayabusa-2, which landed on Ryugu in 2018.

In 2019, the spacecraft collected 0.2 ounces (5.4 grams) from and below the surface of an asteroid, placed it in a pressurized container, and launched it back to Earth on a finely tuned trajectory.

On the subject: We may finally find out why the Ryugu spinning asteroid has such a strange shape

Ryugu does not consist of one large boulder, but of several. Many small stones, and the asteroid got its unusual top shape due to its rapid rotation, scientists say.

As a carbonaceous or C-type asteroid, Ryugu contains large amounts of carbon-rich organic matter, most of which likely originated from the same nebula that gave birth to the Sun and the Solar System’s planets approximately 4.6 billion years ago. Previous analysis of the samples also showed that there is water on the asteroid.

“The Ryugu material is the most primitive material in the solar system that we have ever studied,” says Hisayoshi Yurimoto, professor of geosciences at Hokkaido University and leader of the study.

The initial chemical analysis team of the Hayabusa-2 mission, said when presenting initial results at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in March.

Building blocks of life were first discovered on an asteroid in space 2

Unlike organic molecules found on Earth, pitch-black asteroid samples, which scientists have found reflect only 2-3% of the light that hits them, have not been altered by interactions with Earth’s environment, giving them a chemical character. comp position is much closer to the state of the early solar system.

“In the samples, we found various prebiotic organic compounds, including proteinogenic amino acids, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons similar to terrestrial oil, and various nitrogen compounds,” Hiroshi Naraoka. , a planetary scientist at Kyushu University and leader of the team that looked for organic matter in the samples, said at the conference.

“These prebiotic organic molecules can spread throughout the solar system, potentially as interplanetary dust. from the surface of Ruigu as a result of impact or other causes.

Initially, analysis of samples identified 10 types of amino acids, but now, according to the Japanese Ministry of Education, their number has increased to more than 20. Amino acids are the basic building blocks of all proteins and are essential for the existence of life on our planet.

A 2019 study published in the journal Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta found organic molecules. from space in a 3.3-billion-year-old group of rocks found in South Africa, raising the possibility that some, if not all, of these life-building molecules first made their way to Earth on comets and asteroids. Ryugu’s findings further support that asteroids carry these molecules.

“The evidence for the existence of amino acids in the interior of asteroids raises the possibility that these compounds came to Earth from space,” Kensei Kobayashi, professor emeritus. astrobiology at Yokohama National University, Kyodo News reported.

This means that amino acids are likely to be found on other planets and natural satellites – a clue that “life could have originated in the universe in more places than previously thought,” he added.

Researchers are continuing to analyze Ryugu samples, 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, signs of the organic matter it contains could give scientists important clues. clues about the evolution of the solar system and its materials, and how life originated from them.

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