Direct samples from the near-Earth asteroid Ryugu offer scientists insight into the raw materials of solid matter in the outer regions of the early solar system.
Since ancient Greece, humans have been fascinated by the solar system. However, Japanese researchers have now collected asteroid data that provides insight into the development of the solar system that earlier scientists such as Ptolemy, Galileo and Copernicus could only have dreamed of.
Asteroid explorer Hayabusa2, launched in 2014, set off for Ryugu, a carbon-rich C-type asteroid. In 2018, he arrived in the Ryugu region, performing a number of remote observations and collecting samples at two locations on the asteroid. Prior to the launch of Hayabusa2, a research team from Osaka University had developed a non-destructive light element analysis method using muons to analyze Ryugu.
In such a context, a first analysis project involving international researchers started in 2021, led by Dr. Nakamura from Tohoku University, head of the “Stone Analysis Team” of the Hayabusa2 initial analysis team. The information expected from the Ryugu stone is diverse, and the stone analysis team has conducted various studies on the shape of the stone as well as its elemental distribution and mineral composition. The Osaka University research group was interested in the type and quantity of the elements contained in Ryugu, especially the light elemental composition (C, N, O) of the material substance of life, and found joined the initial analysis team.
One of the advantages of muon analysis is that the high penetrating power of the X-rays characteristic of muons makes it possible to non-destructively identify elements within a sample.
The data obtained from the Ryugu samples (Figure 2) is consistent with the classification of Ryugu as a CI chondrite, clearly suggesting that the Ryugu rocks are an extremely primordial material in the solar system. Another important finding is that the asteroid contains 25% less oxygen relative to silicon than typical CI chondrite meteorites that have impacted Earth (Figure 3). This suggests that CI chondrites, which were previously considered a benchmark for the chemical compositions of solid materials in the solar system, may in fact record some contamination from terrestrial materials.
Professor Terada says, “Carbon, nitrogen and oxygen are the material substances of life. Therefore, our successful detection of these substances without destroying Ryugu’s samples is a groundbreaking achievement.
Since the analysis of the pristine samples from Ryugu provides a rare opportunity to compare materials obtained directly from the asteroid with meteorites on Earth, the new data from the samples from Ryugu may help redefine the standard elemental compositions of solid materials in the solar system.
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