General, Research, Technology

Water and organic materials found in asteroid Itokawa samples

From time to time, eminent scientists speak withvery loud and scandalous statements. For example, Avi Loeb, a professor in the Department of Astronomy at Harvard University, recently stated that the interstellar guest, the asteroid Oumuamua, which invaded our solar system in 2017, is not really an asteroid, but a real spacecraft. This statement was met with skepticism by the scientific community, not without reason believing that Oumuamua's strange shape and trajectory can be explained without attracting aliens. Loeb, in turn, wrote an entire book on the interstellar guest, the main thesis of which is that we should be open to discussing topics such as the possible visit of aliens and the search for extraterrestrial life. Clouding the situation, however, is the fact that Oumuamua is leaving the solar system and we have no prospect of approaching him and finding out the truth. Unlike the asteroid Itokawa, whose soil samples were delivered to our planet using the Hayabusa mission 11 years ago. Recently, an international team of scientists analyzed samples from the heavenly wanderer and found water and organic matter in them. So the world, perhaps more than ever, is ready to discuss what life could be outside the Earth and how long organic molecules can travel on asteroids across the vast space.

The asteroid Itokawa was sent to Earth during the Hayabusa mission 11 years ago.

What you need to know about the Hayabusa mission?

"Hayabusa", which in Japanese meansPeregrine Falcon (は や ぶ さ) is a spacecraft of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the main mission of which was to study the asteroid Itokawa, which is located 336.5 million kilometers from Earth. The launch of the spacecraft took place on May 9, 2003 with the help of the Japanese M-5 launch vehicle, however, due to a strong solar flare that disrupted the operation of the solar panels, the spacecraft reached the asteroid later than planned - in September 2005. Then the scientists still had the hope that the mission would be able to be completed in full.

But reality, as often happens, had its ownplans - the damage that Hayabusa received led to the failure of two gyroscopes of the stabilization system, which allowed the probe to maintain a stable position in the orbit of the asteroid. Subsequent breakdowns led to major changes in the course of the mission and instead of three planned landings on the asteroid, the Japanese probe touched the surface of Itokawa on November 25, 2005 and took soil samples to deliver them to Earth. Wherein the spacecraft was on the surface of Itokawa for only a few seconds.

See also: The Hayabusa-2 spacecraft dropped fragments of the asteroid Ryugu to Earth. What will he do next?

"Organic matter is represented bynanocrystalline graphite and disordered polyaromatic carbon. The analysis of Itokawa showed that the asteroid included water ice, "- said in an interview

The surface of the asteroid Itokawa, which the Japanese probe Hayabusa reached in 2005, looks like this.

Interestingly, Itokawa's shape is not correct - lengththe object is about 600 meters, and the diameter is about two hundred. In its appearance, Itokawa is very different from other asteroids studied by researchers. Despite the fact that its surface can be divided into two types of landscape - an area with a lot of boulders and stones and smooth regolith plains - the rest of the near-Earth asteroid is dominated by rocky rocks.

In total, during the mission, the body of the asteroid wasmore than a thousand boulders have been identified (the average size of one boulder is 5 meters), boulders, the maximum size of which reaches about fifty meters, and craters filled with dust.

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Asteroid Itokawa, water and organic molecules

According to the results of the study,published in the journal Scientific Reports, substances necessary for life on Earth, such as organic molecules and water, occurred on the surface of asteroids: after studying in detail a grain of dust that returned to Earth from Itokawa, scientists came to the conclusion that water and organic matter arose from asteroid, and did not arrive on our planet as a result of a collision. These data indicate that asteroids have evolved chemically over billions of years.

Scientists claim that this is a very important discovery,able to "rewrite the history of life on our planet." The authors of the work note that organic matter does not directly indicate that life exists on asteroids, but indicates that "asteroids carry the same raw materials that were the first source of life on Earth." Over billions of years, the asteroid slowly absorbed liquid and organic matter, just like our planet, according to the researchers.

Note that water and organic molecules were first discovered on the surface of an asteroid.

You will be interested: Intelligent life outside the Earth - reality or fantasy?

Studying the soil of Itokawa, scientists also succeededdetermine its age - it was 4.64 billion years, which is comparable to the age of our solar system (4.57 billion years). It is also interesting that in the course of the work, the researchers came to the conclusion that in the past the asteroid collided with another celestial body and suffered extreme heating, as a result of which it partially lost water and collapsed. Itokawa was able to return water with the help of dust from small cosmic bodies floating nearby.

Is there life on asteroids?

It is important to understand that asteroids can provide an answer toone of the most fundamental questions of modern science is how life began on our planet. These celestial bodies can also help researchers better understand how planets form. This is because asteroids are, in fact, remnants of the original process of planet formation, which have practically not changed since then. So if we want to truly understand the chemical and physical conditions under which the planets were formed (and with them life), we need to get serious about the study of asteroids.

This is interesting: What useful resources are there in asteroids and how can they be obtained?

Asteroids Ryugu and Itokawa in comparison.

Let me remind you that at the beginning of December 2020The Hayabusa-2 space probe dropped a capsule with soil samples taken from the asteroid Ryugu onto Earth. The mission to explore this space object lasted for six years. At the time of this writing, scientists have already opened the capsule, finding soil particles in it. The sample analysis process should begin in the very near future, so we will wait for the results!