Asteroids may have brought water to Earth billions of years ago, says study


This handout photograph released by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) on December 24, 2020 shows samples of soil collected from the asteroid Ryugu by the Hayabusa-2 space probe, in Sagamihara, Kanagawa prefecture. Photograph:( AFP )

Findings of a Japanese space mission suggest that water may have been brought to Earth by asteroids from the outer edges of the solar system. An analysis of rare samples brought back to Earth in 2020 from the asteroid Ryugu led to the latest revelation. 

Notably, to learn more about the origin of life and formation of the universe, Japanese space probe Hayabusa-2 had landed on the asteroid and fired an “impactor” into its surface, leading to the gathering of 5.4 grams (0.2 ounces) of rocks and dust. 

In a new paper published in the journal Nature Astronomy, scientists said the Ryugu samples could help understand how oceans appeared on Earth billions of years ago. An earlier study published in June said scientists had found organic material which showed that some of the building blocks of life on Earth, amino acids, may have been formed in space.

“Volatile and organic-rich C-type asteroids may have been one of the main sources of Earth’s water. The delivery of volatiles (that is, organics and water) to the Earth is still a subject of notable debate,” said the study published Monday.

But the organic materials found “in Ryugu particles, identified in this study, probably represent one important source of volatiles”.

The scientists hypothesised that such material probably has an “outer Solar System origin”. However, it was “unlikely to be the only source of volatiles delivered to the early Earth”.

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