Asteroids, like caskets of life, contain organic molecules

Asteroids roam the Solar System like real caskets that contain the molecules of life and, above all, protect them from pitfalls that could degrade them, such as cosmic rays. This is indicated by international research which found fundamental building blocks for life, such as uracil and vitamin B3 molecules, in the dust of asteroid Ryugu captured in 2018 by the Japanese probe Hayabusa 2. Published in the journal Nature Communications, the study was coordinated by group of the university of Hokkaido directed by Yasuhiro Oba.

“It is not the first time that organic molecules or other molecules fundamental to life, such as amino acids and DNA or RNA bases, have been found on an asteroid, but in this case it also demonstrates that these molecules can be preserved, protected from interaction with radiation and solar wind, for millions and millions of years”, Ernesto Palomba, of the Institute of Space Astrophysics and Planetology (IAPS) in Rome of the National Institute of Astrophysics (INAF), told ANSA.

Graphic representation of the asteroid Ryugu and the organic molecules found under its surface (source: NASA Goddard/JAXA/Dan Gallagher)

The proof that asteroids are real treasure chests of life are the samples taken by the Hayabusa 2 probe, which in 2018 had reached and taken two types of samples from the asteroid 162173 Ryugu: one collected on the surface and one of materials that were found further deep, protected by a few centimeters of debris. All samples had been encapsulated and sent to Earth.

Analyzing those powders, researchers have discovered the presence of some molecules fundamental to life, in particular uracil (one of the typical components of RNA) and niacin, i.e. vitamin B3. “But one of the most important aspects – added Palomba – is that the quantity of these organic molecules is higher in the innermost samples, protected a few centimeters deep”. A discovery that reinforces the importance of asteroids for the development of life on Earth: asteroids like Ryugu, which belongs to the oldest family of these fossils in the Solar System, would have been the main carriers not only of large quantities of water, the one that forms the current oceans, but bricks that triggered the birth of life.

Source: Ansa

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