According to Japanese experts, they are studying soil samples brought from a distant asteroid in an attempt to find the source of heat that changed the celestial body, in their search for clues to the origin of the solar system and life on Earth.
Scientists at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said they conducted a preliminary study of 5.4 grams (0.19 ounces) of soil, far more than the minimum 0.1 gram sample they hoped for, which the Hayabusa2 spacecraft brought back from an asteroid in December. Ryugu.
About 3 grams (0.1 ounce) of black granules were taken from the surface of Ryugu and collected when Hayabusa2 landed on the asteroid in April 2019. About 2 grams of larger fragments, up to about 1 centimeter (0.4 in) in size, were recovered from below the surface in the crater created by Hayabusa2 when it landed a second time 3 months later.
Based on an analysis of data transmitted by Hayabusa2 using a near-infrared spectrophotometer, JAXA scientists found that the asteroid was exposed to extremely high temperatures both on the surface and underground, possibly due to an internal heat source or planetary collisions, rather than due to solar heat.
Kohei Kitazato, a planetary scientist at Aizu University who works with JAXA, said his team found signs of heat in excess of 300 degrees Celsius (572 degrees Fahrenheit) both on the surface of the asteroid and underground.
Because of solar heat alone, the soil underground would not be able to reach that temperature, he said, so it is assumed that internal radiation or planetary collisions affected Ryugu when he was still part of his parent body billions of years ago, causing water to evaporate.
JAXA is continuing its initial study of asteroid samples in anticipation of more comprehensive studies next year. Scientists are also studying possible traces of organic matter in the hope that they will help understand the origin of the solar system and life on Earth.
After research in Japan, some samples will be donated to NASA and other international space agencies for additional research.
Hayabusa2 continues an 11-year expedition to another small and distant asteroid, 1998KY26, to study possible defenses against meteorites that could fly towards Earth, while conducting various tests that could be used in future space missions in Japan, including the one planned for 2024 year MMX – a mission to return samples from one of the Martian moons.