Researchers have been scouring the universe or signs of organic material that might support life on other planets and objects. New research from Royal Holloway University of London has been published that found water and organic matter on the surface of an asteroid sample returned from the inner solar system. The discovery marks the first time organic materials have been found on an asteroid.
This type of organic material could have been the chemical precursors for the origins of life on Earth. The single grain sample was brought back to Earth from an asteroid known as Itokawa by the first JAXA Hayabusa mission in 2010. Scientists discovered the sample showed water and organic matter that originate from the asteroid itself and have chemically evolved over time.
The research suggests the asteroid has been continually evolving for billions of years, incorporating water and organic material from extra-terrestrial material just as the Earth did. Research shows that the asteroid has gone through extreme heating, dehydration, and shattering due to a catastrophic impact. However, despite the impact, the asteroid came back together from shattered fragments and rehydrated itself with water delivered via the in fall of dust or carbon-rich meteorites.
The study found S-type asteroids, the most common of Earth’s meteorites, contain the raw ingredients required for life. Scientists say the analysis of the asteroid sample changes traditional views on the origin of life on Earth that previously focused on C-type carbon-rich asteroids. The single grain used in the study was nicknamed Amazon and contained preserved primitive (unheated) and processed (heated) organic matter within 10 microns of distance.
Researchers say heated organic matter indicates the asteroid had been heated to over 600 degrees Celsius in the past. The presence of unheated organic matter so close means an in fall of primitive organics hit the asteroid’s surface after it had cooled down.