Sunday, November 27, 2022

These asteroid particles may be our oldest specimens of the outer solar system

Debris recovered from an asteroid in near-Earth solar orbit may be the most ‘oldest’ specimen of cosmic rock on which we have yet placed our primate claws.

Samples of rocks and dust are among the most non-contaminated Solar System material we’ve ever had the opportunity to study — and reveal their composition, according to a new, in-depth analysis of material delivered to Earth from the asteroid Ryugu. that they incorporate chemistry from the outer reaches of the system.

Not only does this give us a unique tool for understanding the Solar System and its formation, it gives us new context in which to interpret other space rocks that have been contaminated by exposure. Earth.

“Ryugu particles,” wrote a team led by cosmochemist Motu Ito of the Japan Agency for Sea-Earth Science Technology (JAMSTEC) in Japan, “are the most uncontrolled and uncontrolled extraterrestrial material ever studied, and provide the best available match.” We do. Bulk Solar System Structure.”

The Sun and the Solar System around it have been around for 4.6 billion years. Obviously this is a very long time, and a lot of things have changed since then; But we have time capsules that allow us to study the chemistry of the early solar system to understand how it all came together. These are pieces of rock, such as comets and asteroids, that have been drifting through space, more or less unchanged, since their formation.

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Visiting a rock far from Earth is not easy, and collecting and returning samples is even less so. Historically, we’ve relied on space rocks coming at us to get our mitts on these time capsules. Meteorites known as carbonaceous chondrites have been the best tools available to probe the composition of asteroids that may have delivered water to Earth as the Solar System was still forming.

However, this record is biased by a kind of mineralogical version of the survival of the fittest. Through the explosive rigors of atmospheric penetration only the strongest segments of space rock remain, and yet they are altered and contaminated by the terrestrial atmosphere.

In recent years, reaching out to touch asteroids has fallen within our capabilities. In December of 2020, a probe sent to Ryugu by the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) dropped an invaluable payload: samples of material collected from the asteroid’s surface, and taken home in sterile containers.

Scientists have been studying the material ever since, revealing that the asteroid is structurally similar to those carbonized chondrites, leading us to call it a C-type asteroid. It also contains prebiotic molecules – precursors of organic compounds – and may have once been comets.

The new analysis goes even deeper. Ito and his colleagues have found that the abundance of heavy hydrogen and nitrogen in the asteroid is consistent with the origin of the outer Solar System; That is, Ryugu started his life far away from the Sun. This would be consistent with comet theory, as those icy bodies are visitors to the far reaches of the Solar System.

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The researchers found that ryugu has a marked difference from carbonaceous chondrites. The asteroid samples are missing ferrihydrite (compounds of iron and oxygen) and sulfate (sulfur and oxygen). Since these compounds are found in meteorites, they were thought to be a component of extraterrestrial material. Their lack in Ryugu suggests that they may have been the result of terrestrial weathering in meteorites.

This means that future meteorite studies should allow for this possibility… and future asteroid sample return missions will be able to shed more light on the matter.

“In this study we demonstrate that [carbonaceous] Meteorites, despite their geochemical importance, are proxies of bulk Solar System composition, terrestrially contaminated samples,” the researchers write in their paper.

“The findings of this study clearly demonstrate the importance of direct sampling of primitive asteroids and the need to transport returned samples under completely inert and sterile conditions. The evidence presented here suggests that Ryugu particles are undoubtedly available to the laboratory. are among the most uncharacterized Solar System materials. The study and ongoing investigation of these precious samples will certainly expand our understanding of early Solar System processes.”

research has been published in nature astronomy,

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