where does life come from This question is also being researched in space. Japanese scientists contribute a piece of the puzzle to the answer.

Japanese researchers have for the first time detected amino acids, which are fundamental building blocks of life, in samples from an asteroid.

As the Japanese news agency Kyodo reported on Monday, citing the Ministry of Science in Tokyo, more than 20 types of amino acids were detected in samples from the asteroid Ryugu. After six years in space and having traveled more than five billion kilometers, the Japanese space probe “Hayabusa 2” brought the samples back to earth in a capsule in December 2020. The aim of the mission is to get a closer look at the origins of the solar system and life on earth.

“Hayabusa 2” started in Japan in December 2014 and after almost four years reached its destination around 300 million kilometers away. The probe later landed on Ryugu and collected samples from the surface and, for the first time, from below the surface of such an asteroid. Ryugu is one of the highly carbonaceous asteroids and originally comes from the outer part of the asteroid belt orbiting the sun between Mars and Jupiter. The predecessor probe “Hayabusa” (peregrine falcon) brought soil samples from an asteroid to earth for the first time in the world in 2010.

The German Aerospace Center (DLR) also took part in the “Hayabusa 2” mission with the “Mascot” lander developed jointly with the French space agency CNES. He landed on Ryugu in October 2018 and explored the asteroid, which was made of highly porous material, until the battery ran out.

Material billions of years old

In Japan, the individual components of the samples from the asteroid Ryugu were first curated and described. The 4.6 billion year old material dates from the early days of the solar system. Microscopic, mineralogical and geochemical investigations began last year. The Japanese space agency Jaxa is also making some of the samples available to researchers from other countries.

Simple, single-celled life is believed to have existed on Earth as early as 3.9 billion years ago – almost immediately, when the Earth was cool enough for liquid water to surface. How could life arise so quickly? This question has occupied researchers for a long time. Only recently was it reported that a research team from Japan and the USA was able to detect so-called nucleobases in three meteorites – important building blocks for the genetic material DNA. The scientists explain in the journal “Nature Communications” that these complex molecules probably formed in space before the formation of the solar system.

It has long been known that many organic substances can form in space. Amino acids and sugar molecules have been detected in gas clouds and in meteorites that have fallen to earth. As a result, the hypothesis gained weight that the rapid emergence of life on earth was pushed by an influx of life building blocks from space.