Space mission shows Earth’s water could come from asteroids: study

Hayabusa-2 returned to Earth orbit two years ago to drop off a capsule containing the sample

Hayabusa-2 returned to Earth orbit two years ago to drop off a capsule containing the sample.

The water may have been brought to Earth by asteroids from the outer edges of the solar system, scientists have said after analyzing rare samples collected during a six-year Japanese space mission.

In a quest to shed light on origins of life and the formation of the universe, researchers are scrutinizing material brought back to earth in 2020 from asteroid Ryugu.

The 5.4 grams (0.2 ounces) of rocks and dust were collected by a Japanese space probe, called Hayabusa-2, which landed on the celestial body and fired an “impactor” into its surface.

Studies of the material are starting to come out, and in June a group of researchers said they had found organic material which showed that some of the building blocks of life on Earth, amino acidsmay have formed in space.

In a new article published in the journal natural astronomyScientists said samples from Ryugu could give clues to the mystery of how the oceans appeared on Earth billions of years ago.

“Volatile, organic-rich C-type asteroids may have been one of Earth’s main sources of water,” said the study by scientists from Japan and other countries, released on Monday.

“The delivery of volatiles (i.e. organics and water) to Earth is still a notable topic of debate,” he said.

Asteroid dust collected by the Hayabusa-2 probe

Graphic explaining how the Japanese space probe Hayabusa-2 deposited asteroid samples on Earth in December 2020 before starting a new mission.

But the organics found “in the Ryugu particles, identified in this study, likely represent a significant source of volatiles.”

The scientists speculated that such material likely had an “external solar system origin”, but said it was “unlikely to be the only source of volatiles delivered to early Earth”.

Hayabusa-2 was launched in 2014 on its mission to Ryugu, about 300 million kilometers away, and returned to Earth orbit two years ago to drop off a capsule containing the sample.

In the natural astronomy study, the researchers again hailed the findings made possible by the mission.

“Ryugu particles are undoubtedly among the least contaminated solar system materials available for laboratory study and ongoing investigations of these valuable samples will certainly expand our understanding of early solar system processes,” the study says. .

Asteroid samples contain ‘clues to origin of life’, say Japanese scientists

More information:
Motoo Ito et al, A Pristine Record of Outer Solar System Materials from the Returned Sample of Asteroid Ryugu, natural astronomy (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41550-022-01745-5

© 2022 AFP

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