Material from the early solar system found in samples from asteroid Ryugu

(ORDO NEWS) — Japanese scientists presented the results of the next stage of research on unique samples collected on a distant asteroid: they found water and organic matter.

In its movement around the Sun, the asteroid (162173) Ryugu crosses the Earth‘s orbit, so in 2014 Japanese scientists sent a space probe to it.

The Hayabusa2 landed two robots on the surface of Ryuga and fired small metal projectiles at it a couple of times, drawing in particles of ejected dust and gases.

The shells had different masses, so that the first of them lifted the substance from the very surface, and the second left a crater up to ten meters deep, exposing the deeper layers of the asteroid.

In 2020, the Ryugu sample container successfully returned to Earth, and since then, scientists have been examining them with the greatest care, trying to avoid the slightest contamination.

This process is divided into several stages, each of which is allocated a strictly limited share of the five-and-a-half grams of the substance delivered by the mission.

The primary analysis was carried out by the Japan Aerospace Agency (JAXA) itself, and at the second stage, other researchers joined this work. The new results of the work are presented in an article published in the journal Nature Astronomy.

Asteroids are practically the same age as the solar system and, unlike the planets, have hardly changed over the past billions of years.

It is believed that they, like “time capsules”, have preserved samples of ancient matter that can clarify many questions about the formation of the solar system itself with its planets, and even about the emergence of life.

However, until recently, scientists had at their disposal only those fragments that fell to Earth and were significantly transformed at the same time.

For example, light elements do not survive such a catastrophe at all and disappear. In contrast, samples delivered by space probes retain their original composition.

Material from the early solar system found in samples from asteroid Ryugu 2
Ryugu asteroid regolith capsule

The Ryugu samples were examined by a large team of scientists led by Motoo Ito. To begin with, they revealed a considerable amount of water in them, which makes it possible to attribute the asteroid itself to the class of CI-chondrites – carbonaceous, containing a lot of iron and hydrated silicates.

It is worth saying that until now, based on spectral observations, Ryugu was assigned to another class of chondrites.

This shows that such observations, unable to “see” subsurface matter, are not always accurate enough to classify asteroids.

In addition, the samples did not contain ferrihydrite and sulfates, which are often found in carbonaceous meteorites.

It is possible that these substances are not found in chondrite asteroids and are formed when they fall to Earth.

But organic compounds were found in the samples, including various amino acids. Some aliphatic cyclic molecules have never been seen before in asteroids.

On Ryugu, they are encapsulated in tiny mineral silicates whose texture also speaks to past interactions with water.

It is possible that it was precisely these particles of asteroids that once brought to the young Earth both large masses of water and organic matter, which served as the seeds for chemical evolution and the development of life.

The authors emphasize that the Ryugu samples remain the purest samples of the solar system’s primary matter, and their study is far from complete.

Meanwhile, the American space probe OSIRIS-REx has already collected about 60 grams of matter from the near-Earth asteroid (101955) Bennu, in 2023 it should arrive on Earth.

Unfortunately, the process is not developing so successfully: according to NASA, the sample trap was overfilled and could not close tightly, which disperses small particles into space.

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