More than 20 types of amino acids have been detected in samples Japan’s Hayabusa2 space probe brought to Earth from an asteroid in late 2020, a government official said on Monday, showing for the first time that organic compounds exist on asteroids in the world. ‘space.
With essential amino acids for all living things to make protein, the discovery could hold clues to understanding the origins of life, the Department of Education said.
In December 2020, a capsule that had been carried on a six-year mission by Hayabusa2 delivered over 5.4 grams of surface material to Earth from the asteroid Ryugu, located over 300 million kilometers away.
File photo shows asteroid Ryugu photographed by Hayabusa2 in November 2019. (Photo courtesy of JAXA) (Kyodo)
The Ryugu probe aimed to unravel the mysteries of the origin of the solar system and of life. Previous analysis of the samples had suggested the presence of water and organic matter.
The full-fledged sample survey was launched in 2021 by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and research institutes nationwide, including the University of Tokyo and the University of Hiroshima.
Although it is unknown how amino acids arrived on ancient Earth, one theory says they were brought by meteorites, with amino acids being detected in a meteorite found on Earth. But it is also possible that they were attached to the ground.
Meteors that reach Earth burn up when they hit the atmosphere and are quickly contaminated by terrestrial microorganisms.
A capsule used to send asteroid samples to Earth from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Hayabusa2 space probe is on public display at the Sagamihara City Museum in Kanagawa Prefecture on March 12, 2021. (Kyodo)
Hayabusa2 was revolutionary in that it collected materials from underground unaltered by sunlight or cosmic rays, and delivered them to Earth without being exposed to outside air.
Hayabusa2 left Earth in 2014 and reached its stationary position above Ryugu in June 2018 after traveling 3.2 billion km in an elliptical orbit around the Sun for more than three years.
The probe touched down on the asteroid twice the following year, collecting the first ever subterranean samples from an asteroid.
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