That space holds the greatest secrets: numerous researchers have therefore made it their task to better understand space and its components. That was also the idea behind the mission of the Hayabusa2 spacecraftapproved by the Japanese space agency JAXA in 2019 Asteroid Ryugu 20 headed for.
The probe collected several samples of the asteroid, which is 0.9 kilometers in diameter, and sent them in one capsule back to earth. The Bayreuth cosmochemist Audrey Bouvier is a member of the international research team. This team was at the first chemistry conducted in Japan analyses involved in the Ryugu rock samples.
Asteroid Ryugu 20: Investigation provides important insights
Different to meteoriteswhich occasionally find their way to Earth, it can be assumed that the asteroids are not caused by entering the earth atmosphere or have been chemically altered while on Earth. This is what makes examining the samples so exciting for the researchers.
The samples from Hayabusa2 weighed just over 5.4 grams in total. “When the sample containers were in Japan were opened, the surprise was great. There was far more material that looked like dark pebblesthan we originally expected,” explained Bouvier. “Most of the samples were only a few millimeters in size. Individual exceptions were up to one centimeter in size. That’s the maximum size that can be obtained from sampling asteroid surfaces,” she said.
Upon examining the samples from Ryugu 20, the researchers discovered that the minerals in contact with an aqueous liquid at a temperature of about 37 degrees Celsius. In addition, they were never exposed to temperatures above 100 degrees Celsius. According to the researchers, there is evidence that these changes took place about five million years after the formation of the first minerals in the solar system.
Water also possible on other planets
These changes allow conclusions to be drawn that they took place in one of the minor planets that later became planets of the solar system became. On the progenitor of a planet, a so-called planetesimalwhich Ryugu was blasted out of, it could be plentiful water have given. This in turn would be an important prerequisite for the emergence of life.
Another peculiarity of the rock samples from Ryugu 20 are the ones they contain chemical elements. Ryugu resembles carbonaceous CI chondrites from meteorite Ivuna. The similarity of the composition with the photosphere of the sun is particularly strong. In the photosphere is the outer shell of a star. Light is emitted from this into space, so that the chemical composition can be derived from it. When analyzing the asteroid Ryugu, there was evidence that it descended from a planetesimal that formed at the very edge of the solar system.
Ryugu is said to have migrated into the interior of the solar system and thus arrived at its current near-Earth level orbit around the sun. According to current research, it is suspected that materials formed at the very edge of the solar system could have contributed to the formation of the earth. Materials containing carbon may have been an important source of Earth’s such “volatile elements”. Volatile Elements are hydrogen, oxygen or carbon. They are essential components of the earth’s atmosphere and the oceans and play a crucial role in the origin of life.
Analysis of the asteroid: new information on the origin of life?
Ahead of the publication of the “Science” article, a team of international scientists announced that the Ryugu rock samples contained 20 different amino acids have been proven. Amino acids are the building blocks of life on earth. “It is the first time that amino acids have been discovered that clearly did not originate or have not been modified on Earth. Against this background, too, the asteroid Ryugu is an exciting research object that will provide revealing insights into the… origin of life promises. That’s why we at the University of Bayreuth would like to get more involved in the analysis of extraterrestrial rock samples in the future,” explained Bouvier.
Mars rock is to be examined
Together with Nobuyoshi Miyajima, mineralogist at the Bavarian Geoinstitut, Bouvier would like to apply to the Japanese space agency for Ryugu samples to be loaned to the BGI for further mineralogical and chemical analysis. The BGI is also planning to collect samples from Martian rock to investigate. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the European Space Agency (ESA) have confirmed Bouvier as a member of the Mars Sample Return Campaign Science Group. The panel is currently planning to return rock samples from Mars.
The Hayabusa2 spacecraft was launched on December 3, 2014 and explored the asteroid Ryugu for 17 months between June 2018 and November 2019. The mission consisted of two landingsto collect samples of the asteroid. On the second landing, a crater created so that not only surface material but also rock samples from deeper layers could be collected. The sample capsule was recovered in Australia on December 6, 2020 and brought to Japan under strict quarantine conditions during the corona pandemic.
That international teamwhich has analyzed the Ryugu samples so far, consists of a total of six research groups led by scientists in Japan. Audrey Bouvier is a member of the working group that examines the chemical elements contained in the samples and their isotopes. The Hayabusa2 spacecraft is already on its way to another asteroid.
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