Water may have reached Earth from asteroids

The samples were collected from the asteroid Ryugu by the “Hayabusa-2” probe (Behrouz Mehri/AFP)

After analyzing rare samples collected in a Japanese space mission that lasted six years, scientists revealed that quantities of water may have reached Earth by asteroids from the far reaches of the solar system.

In an effort to shed light on the origins of life and the formation of the universe, researchers examine materials returned to Earth in 2020 from the asteroid Ryugu. 5.4 grams of rock and dust were collected by a Japanese space probe called “Hayabusa-2”, which landed on the celestial body and launched an “impact” on its surface.

Studies on these substances have begun to be published, and last June researchers said they had found an organic substance that showed that some of the basic pillars of life on Earth, amino acids, may have formed in space.

In a new study published in the journal Nature Astronomy, scientists say that the Ryugu samples could help unlock the mystery of the appearance of oceans on Earth billions of years ago.

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

She noted that “the delivery of volatiles (i.e. organic matter and water) to the Earth is still a matter of great debate.”

But the organic matter “in the Ryugu particles, identified in this study, may represent an important source of volatiles.”

The scientists hypothesized that such materials might have an “extrasolar origin”, but said that it was “unlikely to be the only source of volatile matter that reached the early Earth.”

Hayabusa 2 was launched in 2014 on its mission to Ryugu, some 300 million kilometers away, and returned to Earth’s orbit two years ago to return a capsule containing the sample.

In the Nature Astronomy study, researchers again praised the results made available by the Japanese space mission.

“Ryugu particles are undoubtedly among the most uncontaminated solar system materials available for laboratory studies, and ongoing investigations of these precious samples are sure to broaden our understanding of the processes the early solar system experienced,” the study said.



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