Asteroid Sample Could Reveal Our Solar System’s Origin Story

Just over a year after Japan's Hayabusa2 mission returned the first subsurface sample of an asteroid to Earth, scientists have determined that the near-Earth asteroid Ryugu is a pristine remnant from the formation of our solar system. From a report: This was the first material to be returned to Earth from a carbon-rich asteroid. These asteroids can reveal how our cosmic corner of the universe was formed. The organic and hydrated minerals locked within these asteroids could also shed light on the origin of the building blocks of life. Ryugu is a dark, diamond-shaped asteroid that measures about 3,000 feet (1 kilometer) wide. Hayabusa2 collected one sample from the asteroid's surface on February 22, 2019, then fired a copper "bullet" into the asteroid to create a 33-foot wide impact crater. A sample was collected from this crater on July 11, 2019. Then, Hayabusa2 flew by Earth and dropped the sample off in Australia last December. The C-type, or carbonaceous, asteroid is much darker than scientists originally thought, only reflecting about 2% of the light that hits it, according to one study published Monday in the journal Nature Astronomy. After opening the sample, scientists were surprised to find that the spacecraft collected 5.4 grams from the asteroid -- much more than the single gram they were expecting, said Toru Yada, lead study author and associate senior researcher at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Institute of Space and Astronautical Science. In the second study, also published Monday in Nature Astronomy, the researchers determined that Ryugu is made of clay and other hydrated minerals, with a number of carbonates and organics inside the sample.

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