Everyone wants a grain: Countries queue up to get a piece of asteroid that hides ingredients for life

Japanese researchers for the first time discovered 20 amino acids in samples returned from an asteroid. Now everyone is queuing up to get a piece of the asteroid.

The Hayabusa2 was launched in 2014 touched down on Ryugu twice, despite its extremely rocky surface. (Representative Image/Pixabay)

As many as 40 scientific proposals have been accepted from research teams across the world as everyone queues up to get a piece of asteroid that hides ingredients for life. The selected proposals are from nine countries, requesting 74 sample grains, which is 230 mg of the total asteroid samples collected.

A spacecraft named Hayabusa2 returned a sample capsule containing material collected from the C-type asteroid Ryugu to Earth in December 2020. Japanese researchers then identified 20 amino acids in the samples.

Amino acids are molecules that combine to form proteins and are building blocks of life. These molecules are essential for living beings as they help in breaking down food, growth, repairing body tissues, and performing several other bodily functions. These can also be used as a source of energy by the body.

These amino acids have previously been detected in the asteroids that fell on Earth. However, they were barely quantified as they were lost during entry through Earth’s atmosphere that burns and creates plasma. The discovery of 20 of these key ingredients confirms the presence of organic material in these remnants from the creation of the solar system.

Following the discovery, research teams were invited to submit a scientific proposal requesting grains from the sample for a planned analysis by April 22, 2022. The Ryugu Sample Research Open Call Committee discussed the submissions from 12 countries and selected 40 of the proposals, which were then approved by the Hayabusa2 Sample Allocation Committee on June 13, 2022.

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