The water found on the asteroid could shed light on the origins of life on Earth

The water found on the asteroid could shed light on the origins of life on Earth

Scientists have found liquid water trapped in crystals inside rock samples returned by the asteroid Ryugu about 300 million km (186 million miles) from Earth.

Samples of the asteroid were found to contain a number of minerals, including particles rich in calcium and aluminum, magnetic minerals such as magnetite, as well as carbonated water containing salts and organic matter.

The samples were returned to Earth for analysis by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) mission Hayabusa2 in 2020.

The results, published in the journal Science Friday, offer further evidence to support the theory that life – or life precursor molecules – on Earth may have originated from space.

“Liquid water was found trapped in the crystals in the sample. Water was held back in micron-sized vacancies, ”JAXA said in a statement.

In the study, the scientists analyzed 17 Ryugu samples that measured approximately 1-8mm and found an iron sulfide pyrrhotite crystal containing carbonated water.

Researchers have suggested that the parent space rock from which the asteroid Ryugu descends originated in the darkness of a cloud of stellar gas located away from the rays of sunlight.

In this parent body, they claimed there would be variations in the water-to-rock ratio between the surface and the interior, with deeper rocks in the subsoil containing more water.

Simulations conducted by the scientists suggested that Ryugu’s parent body accumulated around 2 million years after the formation of the Solar System, and then heated up to around 50 ° C over the next 3 million years, causing chemical reactions between water and rock.

Samples of the asteroid were found to contain material near the surface of the parent body prior to its destruction by impact and originating from within the parent space rock.

Scientists compared the hardness of the samples to that of volcanic igneous rocks on Earth, making them soft and allowing them to be easily cut with a blade.

The researchers found a diverse array of minerals in these rock fragments, the differences of which, they said, can be explained by the different conditions for chemical reactions with water.

Scientists said hydrated minerals, including silicates and carbonate compounds discovered in the asteroid sample, were likely formed when raw materials in the parent body reacted with water and carbon dioxide inside the giant space rock.

Based on the state and stability of some of these minerals, the researchers said the water temperature in parts of the source rock may have been around 25 ° C.

Other studies have also suggested that the iron magnetite ores in the Ryugu samples formed “surprisingly low” temperatures below 40 ° C.

The new analysis also revealed that “coral-like crystals” grew from Ryugu’s liquid water.

Based on these findings, the researchers said there was an environment “similar to Earth’s oceans” within Ryugu, adding that such water-bearing asteroids are more widely distributed in the Solar System than objects without water.

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