A recent study of a sample collected by the Hayabusa2 spacecraft from the asteroid Ryugu has revealed that the object is rich in prebiotic organics, including amino acids that are essential building blocks of life, as Space.com reveals.
These compounds can be produced through non-living processes such as chemical reactions within asteroids, providing support for the theory that the ingredients for life on Earth were delivered from space. The Ryugu sample also contained other organic prebiotic molecules that form in the presence of liquid water, which is another key ingredient for life. This discovery highlights the importance of prebiotic chemistry, the search for chemical processes that could have led to the appearance of life on our planet.
Hiroshi Naraoka, the research lead author, explained:
The presence of prebiotic molecules on the asteroid surface despite its harsh environment caused by solar heating and ultraviolet irradiation, as well as cosmic-ray irradiation under high-vacuum conditions, suggests that the uppermost surface grains of Ryugu have the potential to protect organic molecules,
These molecules can be transported throughout the solar system, potentially dispersing as interplanetary dust particles after being ejected from the uppermost layer of the asteroid by impacts or other causes.
Ryugu is a near-Earth asteroid that was discovered in 1999 by astronomers using the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research project. It is about 1 kilometer in diameter and is located approximately 300 million kilometers from Earth. Ryugu is classified as a potentially hazardous asteroid due to its proximity to Earth and its size.
In 2014, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) launched the Hayabusa2 spacecraft to study Ryugu up close. In June 2018, Hayabusa2 arrived at Ryugu and began studying the asteroid using a suite of scientific instruments.
In February 2019, Hayabusa2 successfully touched down on Ryugu’s surface and collected a sample using a specially designed sampling device. The spacecraft then returned to Earth with the sample, which is currently being analyzed by scientists.
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