The results of a recently published study suggest that the water on our planet might have in fact an extraterrestrial origin. The Japanese Space Agency collected samples from the Itokawa asteroid back in 2005 with the help of the Hayabusa probe. The probe returned to Earth in 2010, and the samples have been analyzed ever since.
Researchers from Arizona State University received five samples as well. “It was a privilege that the Japanese space agency JAXA was willing to share five particles from Itokawa with a U.S. investigator,” said Maitrayee Bose, a co-author on the paper and an assistant professor of Earth and Space Exploration at ASU. “It also reflects well on our school.”
Discovering water in asteroids
Scientists decided to look for water signs even though these asteroids shouldn’t contain any. It appears that their hunch was right as they did find indeed that the asteroid contained water. “We found the samples we examined were enriched in water compared to the average for inner solar system objects,” said Ziliang Jin, first author of the paper published in Science Advances and a postdoctoral scholar at ASU.
“The particles we analyzed came from a part of Itokawa called the Muses Sea,” added Maitrayee Bose. “It’s an area on the asteroid that’s smooth and dust-covered.” Itokawa is part of a more massive asteroid that is 12 miles wide. The rock seems to have separated after an asteroid collision. Itokawa was formed after the two rocks combined together eight million years ago.
“Although the samples were collected at the surface, we don’t know where these grains were in the original parent body. But our best guess is that they were buried more than 100 meters deep within it,” said Jin. More research is needed, but the good news is that the Hayabusa 2 probe managed to extract new samples from another asteroid.