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Schematic view of asteroid Itokawa

New clues on origin of life found from water samples on Asteroid Itokawa

Water is a precious and limited resource yet humans have not valued it only until recent times where there is awareness about the shortage of water and global warming. Nowadays, a lot of research is going on to find traces of life outside the Earth and various space missions are held which have successfully found traces of water on the moon and Mars.

In 2010 however, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) made history when its Hayabusa probe brought back samples from the Asteroid Itokawa, it was the first time mankind had gone to an asteroid, collected samples and brought it back safely to the Earth. After studying those samples a study was published in the Journal of Advanced Sciences that they contain lots of water inside them.

A cosmochemist at the Arizona State University, Maitrayee Bose had commented that no one really expected to find water samples on Itokawa as it was known that Itokawa asteroid faces temperatures up to 1500 degrees Fahrenheit and faces many collisions in space in the voyage. So there wasn’t much hope to find traces of water until we did a lot of calculations which showed that indeed it might be possible. Itokawa is a 1,800 foot long and 1,000-foot wide satellite which orbits the sun every 18 months, Itokawa was an asteroid which was remains of a bigger asteroid close to 12 miles long. The research done by Bose aims to study the internal chemistry of small building blocks for life. He is interested in finding out whether asteroids and other eternal bodies are able to deliver water and organic chemicals to other planets, and also find planets with the existence of water other than our Earth.

The samples from the JAXA which were brought back to Earth contained 5 samples which were half as thick as the sample of hair. Two of these samples contained mineral pyroxene. Pyroxenes contain water as a part of their crystalline structure and which then suspected Itokawa to contain water. To study these samples which were half the thickness of the strand of hair, the team used ASU’s Nanoscale Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometer (NanoSIMS), which can measure such tiny mineral grains with great sensitivity.

The results showed the presence of water and those relatively dry asteroids like Itokawa can also contain traces of water. Itokawa is an S-class satellite based on its spectrum. Bose further added that S – class satellites are most common objects in the asteroid belt and although they are small and have contained water and other volatile minerals which they are made up of. The race for exploration of water and life is heating up between countries and for the good of humanity.

itokawa

Scientists detect presence of water in dust particles from asteroid Itokawa

Researchers have detected presence of water in grains of dust obtained from the asteroid Itokawa. This finding can be a important clue on how water formed in Earth. The studies have been published in the journal Science Advances.

The peanut shaped asteroid, Itokawa was found in 1998 by LINEAR, a collaboration of NASA with United States Air Force. It has been named after Japanese engineer, Hideo Itokawa. It has a very low density and has a rotation time of 12 hours.

A team of researchers from Arizona State University has measured the quantity of water in the small particles of dust which were carried to earth by the Japanese spacecraft, Hayabusa. Hayabusa, a robotic space probe is manufactured by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency for studying the elements, characteristics of Itokawa. It started its journey, collected more than 1500 regolith particles and returned back to Earth in 2010. Though this is not the first evidence of presence of water in an asteroid, scientists have detected water for the first time in laboratory. In other cases, it was done with the help of information collected by telescopes or the equipments present in the spacecrafts.

The first proof of water in asteroid was found in 2010 when scientists used Infrared Telescope Facility of NASA to detect water ice on the asteroid Themis. Also in December, 2018 scientists detected hydrated minerals while studying the rocks of the asteroid Bennu. After these discoveries, scientists have come to the conclusion that presence of water is quite common in our solar system. It may be present either in the form of water ice or hydrated minerals.

From the current findings, the scientists at ASU have concluded that the silaceous asteroids like Itokawa , which are stony asteroids composed of silicates and also one of the most frequently found rocks in space might have delivered almost half of Earth’s water during its formation.

Ziliang Jin, researcher at School of Earth and Space Exploration at ASU along with fellow cosmochemist Maitrayee Bose calculated the abundance of water along with the percentage composition of deuterium and hydrogen, a factor which can indicate the similarity of the water to the water found on Earth. It has been found that the composition of isotopes of hydrogen are similar to Earth.

The team at ASU received five samples out of the 1500 ones brought by spacecraft Hayabusa. Each one measured about half of width of human hair. They have been obtained from the Moses Sea, lying in the middle of the asteroid Itokawa.