According to Japanese scientists, an asteroid 200 million kilometers from Earth contains the building blocks of life.
More than 20 types of amino acids were reportedly discovered in samples taken from the asteroid Ryugu by Tokyo’s Hayabusa2 probe in 2018 and 2019.
Experts have previously said the samples are the “most primitive solar system material we’ve ever studied”.
They analyzed 5.4 grams of rock grains from Ryugu since the samples returned to Earth in December 2020.
Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins that living organisms produce based on their DNA code, so they could be a key signature for the existence of extraterrestrial life on other planets.
However, while these are the organic compounds of which life as we know it is made, they are not necessarily the remains of ancient living organisms themselves.
Protein-building chemicals can also form through natural geological processes, such as, for example, those that formed the solar system.
The claim about the discovery of 20 types of amino acids was made by an official from the Japanese Ministry of Education.
According to Japanese scientists, an asteroid 200 million kilometers from Earth contains the building blocks of life. Samples of the diamond-shaped, half-mile-wide space rock were returned to Earth for study by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency in 2020
Scientists have analyzed 5.4 grams of rock grains from Ryugu (pictured) since the samples returned to Earth in December 2020
WHAT ARE AMINO ACIDS?
Amino acids are made from varying amounts of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen.
Their chains are held together by bonds called peptides.
These chains are used to make proteins that support all life on earth.
The amino acids could have developed differently to meet the challenges of extraterrestrial conditions, or conditions not found on Earth.
It was previously reported at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Texas in March that 10 types, including glycine and alanine, had been found, according to scientists detailing two papers on the discovery.
“We detected various prebiotic organic compounds in the samples, including proteinogenic amino acids, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons similar to terrestrial petroleum, and various nitrogen compounds,” said Hiroshi Naraoka of Kyushu University in Japan, who led the study. team of researchers.
“These prebiotic organic molecules can spread throughout the solar system, potentially as interplanetary dust from Ruygu’s surface through impact or other causes.”
The data also suggested that Ryugu may be a remnant of an extinct comet that spent tens of thousands of years circling the solar system.
Scientists believe it was then vaporized by high temperatures and turned into a rubble heap asteroid after moving through the inner asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars.
Samples of the space rock, diamond-shaped and half a mile in diameter, have been returned to Earth for study by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).
The information obtained showed that Ryugu is a rubble-pile asteroid composed of small pieces of rock and solid material held together by gravity rather than a single monolithic rock.
Second, it’s shaped like a spinning top — likely caused by rapid rotation-induced deformation, Japanese researchers say — and also has a remarkably high organic matter content.
It is this latest discovery that raises the question of the origin of the asteroid.
Hayabusa2 first visited Ryugu in June 2018. From there it took measurements and samples of the asteroid, before departing for Earth in November 2019 and returning the data a year later.
The current scientific consensus is that Ryugu originated from debris left over from the collision of two larger asteroids.
But this cannot be true if the asteroid is rich in organic matter because the material would have been degraded or destroyed by the high temperatures of a collision.
Scientists hope to confirm this level of organic matter once analysis of the returned samples is complete.
Ryugu is a carbon-like near-Earth asteroid that measures about 3,000 feet in diameter and sits in an orbit between Earth and Mars.
Previous tests have already shown that the space rock contains some of the “most primordial materials” ever examined, with scientists saying it could solve the mystery of how the solar system formed.
Experts from the University of Queensland, Australia, said the samples were among the darkest materials ever examined, reflecting just 2% of the light hitting them.
They are also highly porous and could hold the key to understanding how the first building blocks of life arrived on Earth 4.5 billion years ago, the team said.
STUDYING ASTEROID RYUGU WILL HELP SCIENTISTS UNDERSTAND THE HISTORY OF THE SOLAR SYSTEM
Jaxa’s Hayabusa Two probe visited the ancient asteroid Ryugu in an effort to help scientists better understand the origins of the solar system.
The probe launched in December 2014 and arrived at the dice-shaped space rock on June 27, 2018, returning samples to Earth in December 2020.
The probe was loaded with four surface landers, an array of cameras and even an explosive device that dug up rock samples underground.
Ryugu, a C-type asteroid, contains traces of water and organic matter and it is hoped that analysis of this material will reveal what the conditions were when the solar system first formed around 4.6 billion years old.