Amino acids found in asteroid samples collected by Japan’s Hayabusa2 probe

More than 20 types of amino acids have been detected in samples from the Japanese space probe Hayabusa 2 that brought it to Earth from an asteroid in late 2020, an official said Monday.

Education Ministry officials said the acid found was a very important ingredient for living organisms and could be a clue to understanding the origin of life.

In December 2020, the capsule carrying Hayabusa 2 on a six-year mission transported more than 5.4 grams of surface material to Earth from the asteroid Ryugu, which lies more than 300 million km away.

Image file of asteroid Ryugu captured by Hayabusa 2 in November 2019 (Photo courtesy of JAXA) (Kyodo)

Ryugu’s investigation aims to unravel the mystery of the origin of the solar system and life. Previous sample analysis indicated the presence of water and organic matter.

A full probe of the sample was launched in 2021 by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and national research institutes including the University of Tokyo and Hiroshima University.

Amino acids are substances that make protein and are indispensable for life.

Although it is not known how amino acids got to the primordial Earth, one theory holds that they came from meteorites, with amino acids found in meteorites found on Earth. But there is also the possibility that they are installed in the ground.

File images show samples brought to Earth by the Hayabusa2 spacecraft from the asteroid Ryugu. (Image credit to JAXA) (Kyodo)

Hayabusa2 sends subsurface material to the ground without exposing it to the outside air after collecting samples that are not weathered by sunlight or cosmic rays.

The discovery of amino acids shows for the first time that they are present on asteroids in outer space.

Hayabusa2 left Earth in 2014 and reached its steady position over Ryugu in June 2018 after traveling 3.2 billion kilometers in an elliptical orbit around the sun for more than three years.

The probes landed on the asteroid twice the following year, and collected the first subsurface samples from the asteroid.

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JAXA announces “major discovery” of asteroid next spring

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