Specks of dust that a Japanese space probe retrieved from an asteroid about 186 million miles (300m kilometers) from Earth have revealed a surprising component: a drop of water.
The discovery supports the theory that life on Earth may have to seed from outer space.
The findings are in the latest research publish from an analysis of 5.4 grams of stones and dust that the Hayabusa-2 probe gathered from the asteroid Ryugu.
“This drop of water has great meaning,” the lead scientist, Tomoki Nakamura of Tohoku University, told reporters before the research was published in Science on Friday.
“Many researchers believe that water was brought [from outer space], but we discovered water in Ryugu, an asteroid near Earth, for the first time.”
Hayabusa-2 was launch in 2014 on its mission to Ryugu and returned to Earth’s orbit two years ago to drop off a capsule containing the sample.
The precious cargo has already yielded several insights, including organic material that showed some of the building blocks of life on Earth, amino acids, may have been formed in space.
The team’s latest discovered was a drop of fluid in the Ryugu sample, “which was carbonated water containing salt and organic matter,” Nakamura said.
That bolsters the theory that he said asteroids such as Ryugu, or its larger parent asteroid, could have “provided water. Which contains salt and organic matter” in collisions with Earth.
“We have discovered evidence that this may have been directly link to. For example, the origin of the oceans or organic matter on Earth.”
Nakamura’s team, which comprises about 150 researchers – including 30 from the US, Britain, France, Italy, and China – is one of the largest teams analyzing the sample from Ryugu.
The sample has been divid among different scientific teams to maximize the chance of discovered.
Kensei Kobayashi, an astrobiology expert and emeritus at Yokohama National University who is not part of the research group, hailed the discovery.
“The fact that discovered water the sample itself is surprising,” given its fragility and the chances of it being destroy in outer space, he said.
“It does suggest that the asteroid contained water, in the form of fluid and not just ice, and may have generated organic matter in that water. We have a small favor to ask. Millions are turning to the Guardian for open, independent, quality news daily, and readers in 180 countries worldwide support us financially.
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