In the popular Apple+ TV show For All Mankind, Americans and the Russians are engaged in a race to search and harvest water from the moon. In real life, it turns out the water could be in other places in space, and it could have been the beginning of life on Earth. In a new paper, Japanese scientists who’ve been studying an asteroid on the edge of the solar system say they may have discovered the origin of water on planet Earth: From one of those asteroids. What’s more, they’ve found other evidence that the basic building blocks of human life may have deep-space origins. Read on to find out what the scientists discovered.
During its six-year mission, Japan’s Hayabusa2 space probe landed on the asteroid Ryugu, located 185 million miles above our atmosphere, in 2019. It collected a mere 5.4 grams of rocks and dust and brought them back to Earth. “When it plummeted to Earth in 2020, the capsule provided a stunning show above the Australian outback, streaking across the sky as a dazzling fireball,” CBS News reports.
According to Space.com, those samples are older than all of the planets in the solar system and may be some of the most primitive ever examined. “Ryugu is one of the building blocks of Earth,” researcher Hisayoshi Yurimoto, a professor at Hokkaido University in Japan, said.
In a study released this summer, researchers said organic material in those Ryugu samples suggested that water and amino acids (a basic building block of life on Earth) may have formed in space and been brought to this planet by a collision.
In a new paper published in the journal Nature Astronomy, scientists said the Ryugu samples, which contained water, could signify how oceans appeared on Earth billions of years ago. “Volatile and organic-rich C-type asteroids may have been one of the main sources of Earth’s water,” the researchers wrote.
“Because of this study, experts have been able to conclude that materials in primitive asteroids may have acted as ‘cradles’ for organic molecules,” an Open University fellow who participated in the study told SciTechDaily. This would have helped to preserve them and so provides a potential mechanism for the coupled delivery of water and organics to the early Earth.”
The Nature Astronomy researchers acknowledged that “the delivery of volatiles (that is, organics and water) to the Earth is still a subject of notable debate,” but said the organic material found in the Ryugu samples “probably represent one important source of volatiles.”
The scientists say that while material from asteroids is a likely source of volatiles on Earth, it’s probably not the only one.
“Ryugu particles are undoubtedly among the most uncontaminated Solar System materials available for laboratory study and ongoing investigations of these precious samples will certainly expand our understanding of early Solar System processes,” the researchers wrote.