“Molecules of life” found in samples of the Ryugu asteroid

More than 20 types of amino acids were found in samples from the Ryugu asteroid, delivered to Earth in December 2020, The Japan Times reports. This discovery is the first proof that amino acids exist on asteroids in space. This discovery is of great importance for understanding how such vital organic molecules got to Earth.

The samples were collected by the Hayabusa-2 spacecraft. This operation took place 400 million kilometers from Earth in 2019. This dangerous maneuver made it possible to collect 5.4 grams of the most valuable rock samples from the surface and bowels of the asteroid.

Container with a sample from the Ryugu asteroid. Photograph: JAXA

Ryugu is of interest to scientists because it is “the most primitive material in the Solar System”, Hisayoshi Yurimoto, a geologist from Hokkaido University, commented on the samples during a Lunar and Planetary scientific conference. Ryugu is a part of a comet formed from gas and dust during the formation of the Solar System. Because of its age, dust and rocks from the surface of Ryugu allow scientists to look at what kind of material existed more than 4 billion years ago.

A detailed study of the samples made it possible to detect a significant amount of amino acids in the space rock formed from cosmic dust. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, which makes them indispensable organic molecules for the origin of life.

Ryugu asteroid. Photo: JAXA

“Our ultimate goal is to understand how organic compounds are formed in an extraterrestrial environment. We analyze organic compounds, including amino acids, sulfur compounds and nitrogen compounds, to understand how organic synthesis is formed on asteroids,” said Hiroshi Naraoka, a geochemist at Kyushu University in Japan and a member of the Hayabusa-2 team.

Ryugu samples proved that these molecules exist on asteroids in space. Therefore, it is quite possible that such important organic molecules could have reached Earth as a result of impacts from comets and asteroids.

Recall that earlier scientists showed how RNA could be formed on Mars and Earth.

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