Water found in asteroid dust

Scientists said that dust grains recovered by a Japanese space probe from an asteroid 300 million kilometers from Earth revealed a surprising element: a drop of water.

This discovery provides new support for the theory that life on Earth originates from outer space. The results are part of the latest research published from the analysis of 5.4 grams of rock and dust collected by the Hayabusa-2 probe from the asteroid Ryugu.

“This drop of water is of great importance,” Tohoku University chief scientist Tohoku told reporters before the research was published in the journal Science on Friday.

Many researchers believe that water was brought (from space), but we discovered water in Ryugu, a near-Earth asteroid, for the first time. »

Hayabusa-2 launched in 2014 on its mission to Ryugu and returned to Earth’s orbit two years ago to drop a capsule containing the sample.

The precious cargo has already yielded many information, including organic materials that have shown that some of the building blocks of life on Earth, amino acids, may have formed in space.

Research published Friday indicates that the team found a drop of liquid in the Ryugu sample “that was carbonated water containing salt and organic matter,” Nakamura said.

Nakamura said this supports the theory that asteroids like Ryugu, or its larger asteroid, could “provide water containing salt and organic matter” during a collision with Earth.

“We have found evidence that this (process) may be directly related, for example, to the origin of the oceans or organic matter on Earth.”

Nakamura’s team, made up of about 150 researchers – including 30 from the United States, Britain, France, Italy and China – is one of the largest analyzing the Ryugu sample.

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The sample was divided into different scientific teams to maximize the chances of new discoveries.

Kensei Kobayashi, an expert in astrobiology and professor emeritus at Yokohama National University who is not part of the research group, welcomed the discovery.

“The discovery of water in the sample itself is surprising,” he told AFP, given its fragility and risks of being destroyed in space.

“This indicates that the asteroid contained water – in the form of water in the asteroid dust provides clues to life on Earth.
A liquid, not just ice – organic matter may have formed in this water. »

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