New research has found organic material and water on the surface of the asteroid Itokawa. JAXA collected the sample back in 2010.

New research from Royal Holloway has found organic material and water in a sample returned from asteroid Itokawa. This is the first time that we have found such material on an asteroid.

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (Jaxa) first Hayabusa mission collected the sample back in 2010. The sample, which was only a single grain, shocked scientists. It is the first time that scientists find the raw life components on an asteroid.

The sample shows that water and organic matter that originate from the asteroid itself have evolved chemically through time.

Researchers from Royal Holloway, University of London, suggest that the asteroid had been evolving for billions of years by incorporating the liquid and organic material in the same way Earth does.

The space-borne infrared observatory AKARI, extensively observed asteroid Itokawa last month with its Infrared Camera.

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Scientists suggest that in the past, the asteroid will have gone through extreme heating, dehydration, and shattering due to catastrophic impact. But despite this, the asteroid came back together from the shattered fragments. It also rehydrated itself with water that was delivered via the infall of dust or carbon-rich meteorites.

The study also shows that S-type asteroids, the most common ones near Earth, can contain the raw components of life.

This could change our understanding of the history of life on Earth, which previously focused on carbon-rich C-type asteroids.

“The Hayabusa mission was a robotic spacecraft developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency to return samples from a small near-Earth asteroid named Itokawa, for detailed analysis in laboratories on Earth”, Dr. Queenie Chan from the Department of Earth Sciences at Royal Holloway, said in a statement.

An international team of researchers led a detailed analysis of the sample grain dubbed as ‘Amazon’. The researchers say the grain has preserved both primitive and processed organic matter inside itself.

“After being studied in great detail by an international team of researchers, our analysis of a single grain, nicknamed ‘Amazon’, has preserved both primitive (unheated) and processed (heated) organic matter within ten microns (a thousandth of a centimeter) of distance.

“The organic matter that has been heated indicates that the asteroid had been heated to over 600°C in the past. The presence of unheated organic matter very close to it means that the infall of primitive organics arrived on the surface of Itokawa after the asteroid had cooled down.”

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“Studying Amazon has allowed us to better understand how the asteroid constantly evolved by incorporating newly-arrived exogenous water and organic compounds,” Dr. Chan, continued.

“These findings are really exciting as they reveal complex details of an asteroid’s history and how its evolution pathway is so similar to that of the prebiotic Earth.

Scientists hope that the analysis of this sample will set the groundwork for a more detailed analysis of other samples. JAXA’s Hayabusa2 mission returned pieces of the asteroid Ryugu last year, bringing back a piece of the celestial rock that was only 38 centimeters in diameter.

In 2019, samples from the asteroid Bennu revealed that it was in fact older than scientists previously thought. Thus, providing a new look at how the evolution of the Solar System developed.

Observations of Bennu also confirmed the presence of widespread and abundant hydrated materials, as well as the surprising presence of large boulders.

The researchers published their study in the journal Scientific Reports.

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