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Space mission reveals Earth’s water may come from asteroids: study – Science-Environment News – Report by AFR

Water may have been brought to Earth by asteroids from the outer edges of the solar system, scientists have said after analyzing rare samples collected on a six-year Japanese space mission.

To shed light on the origins of life and the formation of the universe, researchers are examining material brought back to Earth by the asteroid Ryugu in 2020.

The 5.4 grams (0.2 ounces) of rock and dust were collected by a Japanese spacecraft called Hayabusa-2, which landed on the celestial body and fired an “impactor” into its surface.

Studies of the material are beginning to be published, and in June a group of researchers said they had found organic material showing some of the building blocks of life on Earth, amino acids, may have been formed in space.

In a new article published in the journal Nature Astronomy, scientists said the Ryugu samples could provide clues to the mystery of how oceans formed on Earth billions of years ago.

“Volatile and organically rich C-type asteroids may have been one of the main sources of Earth’s water,” said the study, published Monday by scientists from Japan and other countries.

“The release of volatiles (ie, organic matter and water) to Earth is still a matter of notable debate,” it said.

But the organic materials “found in Ryugu particles identified in this study likely represent an important source of volatiles.”

The scientists hypothesized that such material likely has an “extra-solar system origin,” but said it is “unlikely to be the sole source of volatiles being fed to early Earth.”

Hayabusa-2 was launched in 2014 on its mission to Ryugu, some 300 million kilometers away, and returned to Earth orbit two years ago to drop a capsule containing the sample.

In the Nature Astronomy study, researchers once again praised the insights made possible by the mission.

“Ryugu particles are undoubtedly among the most uncontaminated Solar System materials available for laboratory study, and ongoing studies of these precious samples will certainly advance our understanding of early Solar System processes,” the study reads.

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