Publication of the first analyzes of the Ryugu asteroid sample • The Register


Researchers have published the first analyzes of samples taken from asteroid 162173 Ryugu by the Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa2, revealing, for the first time, the physical properties and composition of a carbonaceous asteroid.

The 5.4 g of asteroid sample collected from two locations on the surface of asteroid Ryugu landed in the South Australian outback a year ago before being shipped to Japan for investigation.

Some of the space pebbles went to NASA, but most of it stayed with Japan’s aerospace exploration agency JAXA and its scientists.

The astro-boffins have high hopes on these samples, as they never got their hands on a dark, carbon-rich, or C-type asteroid like Ryugu.

Studies of the physical properties of the samples revealed that the sample resembled the spacecraft’s on-site images of the flying space rock and that the material collected was representative of the asteroid as a whole.

Rich in water and organic matter, the ultra-dark matter was a mixture of elements rarely seen in meteorites that make it to Earth, although these C-type asteroids are the most common in the solar system. The texture was also unusual, as it was uniformly fine and did not include the round, bulky chunks of molten minerals known as “chondrules”.

These characteristics suggest that Ryugu’s parent body was a CI chondrite, a rare meteorite with a composition close to that found in the Sun’s outer shell.

“This demonstrates that Hayabusa2 returned a sample whose parent body is definitively known and which will give us information about the early stages of the solar system,” noted the authors of one of the of them papers published on Tuesday Ryugu in the newspaper Nature astronomy. The authors made this claim because the composition of the CI chondrites is similar to that which would have made up a large part of the solar system when it was formed.

The results are exciting for proponents of the panspermia theory, which proposes that the building blocks of life are transported across the cosmos via a comet or an asteroid. C-type asteroids, in particular, are believed to have seeded a young Earth with water and other materials essential to life. Indeed, scientists have found organic molecules on the first comet intercepted by mankind, comet 67P / Churyumov-Gerasimenko. There is no reason why pieces of comets containing organic material would not survive an impact and spread their cargo far and wide.

Of course, beyond the philosophical questions about the creator of humanity, there is also a very real reason to study asteroids and that is that it would be really great to avoid having one on Earth. and end all fun and games here.

Scientists continue to dig into Ryugu’s samples and hope that follow-up studies could tell us how the solar system evolved. Comparisons of Ryugu with other asteroids are planned, to test the variations.

In addition to dust and pebbles, the mission also produced what JAXA called “the world’s first sample return of a gaseous material from deep space,” so we have more to do. wait for solid matter. ®

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