A study shows that organic materials essential to life on Earth, including water, were discovered on the surface of an asteroid for the first time.
And planetary scientists from “Royal Holloway” University in London examined one grain of dust returned to Earth from the asteroid “Itokawa”, by the Japanese Space Exploration Agency (JAXA), as part of its first mission, “Hayabusa” in 2010.
It turns out that water and organic matter originated on the asteroid itself, rather than arriving as part of a collision, suggesting that it was a chemical evolution over billions of years.
This is the first time that such material has been found on the surface of an asteroid, according to the British team responsible for the new study.
Scientists claim that this is a major discovery that could “rewrite the history of life on our planet,” because it is very similar to the course of evolution on early Earth.
The asteroid was slowly merging liquid and organic materials in the same way, according to the researchers.
Itokawa has continuously evolved over billions of years by incorporating water and organic matter from foreign matter, just like Earth.
In the past, the study authors explained, the asteroid was subjected to extreme heat, drought and shattered due to a catastrophic impact.
However, despite this, the asteroid formed from shattered fragments and re-moistened itself with water that was transported via falling dust or meteorites rich in carbon.
This study shows that the S-type asteroids, where most of the Earth’s meteorites, such as Itokawa, contain the elementary components of life.
Analysis of this asteroid is changing traditional views about the origin of life on Earth, which previously focused heavily on carbon-type C asteroids.
This shows the value of bringing samples of space rocks to study in Earth’s laboratories, said Dr. Queenie Chan, of the Department of Earth Sciences at Royal Holloway.
He continued: “After being studied in great detail by an international team of researchers, our analysis of a single pill, nicknamed“ Amazon ”, preserved both the primitive (unheated) and processed (heated) organic materials. The organic matter that has been heated indicates that the asteroid was heated to more than 600 degrees Celsius in the past. And the presence of unheated organic matter very close to it, means that the fall of primitive organic materials reached the surface of “Itokawa” after the asteroid cooled. ”
Chan said that studying the “Amazon” sample allowed them to better understand how the asteroid was constantly evolving by adding new water and organic compounds.
These results are really exciting because they reveal intricate details about the asteroid’s history, and how its path of evolution is very similar to Earth’s early trajectory.
The success of this mission and the analysis of the sample that has since returned to Earth have paved the way for a more detailed analysis of materials returned by missions such as JAXA’s Hayabusa2 and NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex missions.
The results are published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Source: Daily Mail