Life Outside Earth May Form in the Coldest Depths of space, Ryugu asteroid samples reveal

In December 2014, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) spacecraft Hayabusa2 commenced its journey to study the Ryugu asteroid and also obtain some samples from its terrain. On June 27, 2018, the spacecraft arrived at the asteroid and collected the sample. The spacecraft proceeded to return the sample from the asteroid to Earth in December 2020.

Scientists recently examined the samples obtained from this asteroid to gain more insight into its environment. The team that participated in this study recently released the discovery from Ryugu. The findings suggest that certain organic compounds named PAHs may possibly form in cold regions in space.

These interesting results are helping researchers to learn more about how planet formation occurs and how they also sustain life. PAHs, (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) are ring-shaped complex organic compounds. Astronomers have discovered that some carbon in the universe contains these PAHs in them.

Researchers have also discovered PAHs on Earth. The discovery also suggests that PAHs always form when organic compounds fail to burn completely. Hence, they exist as leftovers. PAHs across the Cosmos naturally exist in nebulas, the interstellar medium, protoplanetary disks, and meteorites.

Why Scientists Suggest that Asteroid Ryugu Is Quiet Unique

Asteroid Ryugu captured during the approach by Hayabusa2. (Image credit: JAXA)

The latest discovery suggests that PAHs could be formed in cold regions in space and also hot regions around stars. Researchers from the Western Australian Organic & Isotope Geochemistry Centre produced PAHs by burning plants.

The team compared these molecules with samples returned to Earth from the Ryugu asteroid. They also compared the two samples with fragments found in the Murchinson meteorite that crashed into the southern part of Australia in 1969.

“The bonds between light and heavy carbon isotopes in the PAHs were analyzed to reveal the temperature at which they were formed,” one of the authors Kliti Grice said in a statement. “Select PAHs from Ryugu and Murchison were found to have different characteristics: the smaller ones likely in cold outer space, while bigger ones probably formed in warmer environments, like near a star or inside a celestial body.”

PAHs are generally classified as building blocks of life because of their carbon content. The latest discovery provides further evidence that PAHs may be formed at cold temperatures.

Hence, life may likely thrive under such a challenging condition. Ryugu asteroid is classified as a C-type asteroid. This implies that houses some amount of carbon and water. These types of asteroids also stand as time capsules and offer clues to the formation of the solar system.

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