Since Japan’s Hayabusa2 brought samples from the asteroid Ryugu to Earth, astrochemists have been interested in the window to a different world. Two essential organic compounds for living organisms have already been detected in the sample. But now, scientists say they have discovered what could possibly be “the tiny seeds of life that were once sent from space to Earth.”
That’s exactly what Megumi Matsumoto, co-author of a study published in the journal Science Advances last month, said in a press release. The study claims to have discovered evidence that cometary organic matter is being transported from space to regions near Earth.
Ryugu has no protective atmosphere and its surface is directly exposed to space. This means that small interplanetary dusts in space can hit the surface of the asteroid, causing changes in its composition and even depositing materials on the surface.
Matsumoto and his colleagues explain that the surfaces of the samples contain “splashes of molten material” ranging from 5 to 20 micrometers. These splashes could have been created when Ryugu was bombarded by cometary dust micrometeoroids.
“Our 3D CT images and chemical analyzes showed that the molten spatter consists mainly of silicate glasses with voids and small inclusions of spherical iron sulfides. “The chemical compositions of the melt splashes suggest that Ryugu’s hydrated silicates were mixed with cometary dust,” Matsumoto added.
Their analysis also detected small carbonaceous materials similar in texture to primitive organic matter in the cometary dust. But they lack nitrogen and oxygen, making them chemically different from organic matter.
Matsumoto and his team propose that the materials formed from cometary organic matter when volatiles such as nitrogen and oxygen evaporated due to heating. This suggests that cometary matter could have been transported from the outer solar system to a region near Earth.
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First uploaded on: 02-02-2024 at 14:47 IST