Water in asteroid dust gives clues to how life began on Earth

(ORDO NEWS) — Dust particles extracted by a Japanese space probe from an asteroid about 300 million kilometers from Earth have revealed a surprising component: a drop of water, scientists said on Friday.

This discovery provides new support for the theory that life on Earth originated from space.

These conclusions are contained in the latest published study, obtained as a result of the analysis of 5.4 grams of rocks and dust collected by the Hayabusa-2 probe from the asteroid Ryugu.

“This drop of water makes a huge difference,” lead scientist Tomoki Nakamura of Tohoku University told reporters ahead of the study’s publication in the journal Science on Friday.

“Many researchers believe that the water was brought (from space), but we first discovered water on Ryugu, an asteroid located near the Earth.”

The Hayabusa 2 spacecraft was launched in 2014 on a mission to Ryuga and returned to Earth orbit two years ago to drop the sample capsule.

The valuable payload has already yielded several discoveries, including organic material that has shown that some of the building blocks of life on Earth, amino acids, could have formed in space.

The study says the team found a drop of liquid in Ryugu’s sample “which was water containing salt and organic matter,” Nakamura said.

This reinforces the theory that asteroids like Ryugu or its larger parent asteroid could “provide water containing salt and organic matter” when they hit Earth, Nakamura said.

“We found evidence that this (process) could be directly related, for example, to the emergence of oceans or organic matter on Earth.”

Nakamura’s team, which includes about 150 researchers, including 30 from the US, UK, France, Italy and China, is one of the largest teams analyzing the Ryugu sample.

The sample was shared among different scientific groups to maximize the chance of new discoveries.

Kensei Kobayashi, an expert in astrobiology and professor emeritus at Yokohama National University who is not part of the research team, welcomed the discovery.

“The fact that water was found in the sample itself is surprising,” given its fragility and the likelihood that it could be destroyed in outer space.

“This suggests that the asteroid contained water – in the form of a liquid, not just ice – and organic matter could form in this water.”

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