The Ryugu asteroid is rich in organic molecules that are potential ‘building blocks’ of life, including various amino acids and other compounds that are formed in the presence of liquid water: this is what emerges from the first analyzes of the samples reported by the Japanese probe Hayabusa 2. The results , which reinforce the hypothesis of the space origin of the fundamental elements for life on Earth, are published in the journal Science by an international research team that includes the Japanese space agency (Jaxa) and the US (Nasa).
“The presence of prebiotic molecules on the asteroid’s surface despite its hostile environment caused by solar heating and ultraviolet irradiation, as well as cosmic ray irradiation, suggests that the grains on Ryugu’s surface have the potential to protect organic molecules “says Hiroshi Naraoka, first author of the study and a researcher at Kyushu University in Japan. “These molecules can be transported throughout the solar system, potentially dispersing as interplanetary dust particles after being ejected from the asteroid’s upper layer by impacts or other causes.”
So far, sugars and components of DNA and RNA have not been found in the Ryugu samples, which have instead been identified in other carbon-rich asteroids. The researchers suspect that these compounds are also present in Ryugu but below detection limits, given the small mass of the samples examined for this research.
In the future, explains Jason Dworkin of NASA, “we will make a direct comparison between the samples from Ryugu and the sample from the asteroid Bennu when the Osiris-Rex mission returns it to Earth in 2023. Osiris-Rex is expected to return samples with a mass greater and will provide another important opportunity to search for traces of organic elements underpinning life in a carbon-rich asteroid.”
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