Japanese researchers have detected residues of biological molecules on an asteroid is more than 320 million kilometers away of the earth. They analyzed several samples taken by the Hayabusa2 probe in 2018 on the asteroid Ryugu. This spacecraft manufactured by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) thus managed to collect approximately 5.4 grams of stones. Some of them were collected from Ryugu soil while others were taken under its surface. Hayabusa2 then took care to store each piece of asteroid in a airtight container before sending them towards the Earth following a finely tuned trajectory.
The scientists then identified more than 20 amino acids on this space rock called Ryugu. This discovery is unprecedented, because it is the first time in history that traces of life have been detected in this way on a object from space. They were also able to determine that this carbonaceous asteroid contains a large amount of rich organic matter in carbon.
Most of these carbonaceous elements comes from the same nebula that gave rise to the Sun and the planets of the solar system 4.6 billion years earlier.
The asteroid Ryugu is made up of water and primitive materials
The asteroid Ryugu has a strange shape reminiscent of a spinning top. Indeed, Ryugu is not a large compact rock, but is made up of many small pebbles in rapid rotation around a central axis. Japanese scientists noticed that the samples are absolutely black and only reflect 2-3% of the light that hits them.
Hisayoshi Yurimotoprofessor of geosciences at Hokkaido University and leader of the team in charge of the initial chemical analysis of the Hayabusa2 mission claimed that Ryugu contains the most primitive materials of the currently known solar system. Moreover, other samples from the same asteroid have suggested the presence water on its surface.
Proteinogenic Amino Acids Suggest the Presence of Life Elsewhere in the Universe
The chemical composition samples is very particular. Indeed, researchers have detected various prebiotic organic compounds rich in oligosaccharides and short-chain polysaccharides, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons similar to terrestrial oil and various nitrogen compounds.
Furthermore, the discovery about twenty amino acids inside the samples greatly surprised the researchers. Not less than 10 types of proteinogenic amino acids, fundamental building blocks of proteins, have been detected in stones. Their presence was a condition essential for the existence of life on our planet. It is then very likely that life is also born to other places in the Universe.