Building blocks of life found in samples taken from an asteroid | Smart News

The carbon-rich asteroid is of interest to researchers because the piece of rock has remained unchanged since the formation of the solar system 4.5 billion years ago.
ISAS/JAXA Hayabusa2 via Wikicommons under CC BY 4.0

Researchers say they have found more than ten types of amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, in samples taken from a diamond-shaped asteroid 200 million kilometers from Earth. The detection is the first time amino acids have been discovered on asteroids in space and may have implications for understanding how organic molecules arrived on Earth, reports the Japan time. The results were presented at the Lunar and Planetary Conference in March 2022.

The molecules were found in samples from the asteroid dubbed 162173 Ryugu. Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) asteroid explorer Hayabusa2 collected about 5.4 grams of grainy, ashy particles from the surface of the space rock and returned them to Earth on December 6, 2020. A previous study examined the mineral and chemical composition of samples taken from Ryugu on the same mission by Hayabusa2. This study is the first to look for amino acids in these samples.

The carbon-rich asteroid is of interest to researchers because it has remained unchanged since the formation of the solar system 4.5 billion years ago. The age, surface and composition of Ryugu rocks can give researchers insight into the earliest period in time, reports Gizmodo’s Isaac Schultz.

Amino acids are the building blocks of life because they link together to form proteins, which carry out most of the chemical processes of cellular life. New discovery suggests amino acids may have been delivered to Earth on asteroids like Ryugu, reports Stephen Luntz for IFL Sciences. Previous research supports this idea as molecules on Ryugu have also been found on meteorites that landed on Earth 3.3 billion years ago, Gizmodo reports. However, since asteroids on Earth have interacted with life, climate and tectonic processes, researchers could not say whether the amino acids present on materials from space has come space or have been contaminated. The discovery of amino acids on Ryugu links meteorites on Earth to amino acids in space. “Proving that amino acids exist in the subsoil of asteroids increases the likelihood that the compounds arrived on Earth from space,” says Kensei Kobayashi, an astrobiologist at Yokohama National University. Kyodo News. “It also means that amino acids can likely be found on other planets and natural satellites, suggesting that ‘life could have originated in more places in the universe than previously thought.’

As researchers continue to analyze samples from Ryugu, more information about the asteroid’s formation and composition will be revealed.

After Hayabusa2 deposited the samples from Ryugu, the researchers sent the probe to embark on further asteroid survey missions. The space probe will fly near asteroid 2001 CC21 – a near-Earth rock the size of the Golden Gate Bridge – in 2026 and asteroid 1998 KY26 – a smaller mass the size of a school bus – in 2031, according to the planetary society.

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