Scientists have found vitamin B3 and other organic compounds and vitamins in the samples collected on the asteroid Ryugu by the Japanесе Hayabusa2 asteroid sample-return mission.
Ryugu is one of many near-earth objects. Interestingly, it is even older than the Sun. And since basic particles of DNA and RNA – nitrogenous bases – were found in the structure of this asteroid, this suggests that the organic compounds necessary for the emergence of biological life were formed long before the appearance of planets in the solar system, including Earth.
In the depths of asteroids, these substances were able to "survive" – the radiation did not reach them and could not destroy them. Perhaps it was from there that these substances then appeared on Earth.
Researchers analyzed samples collected from two different locations on the asteroid and found uracil, one of the building blocks of RNA, as well as vitamin B3, or niacin, a key compound necessary for the metabolism in living organisms, CNN reported, citing an article published in Nature Communications.
In the past, organic matter in meteorites was searched for by placing samples in highly heated formic acid, which served as a solvent and extracted organic matter from the samples for later analysis. On the other hand, this acid destroyed a number of compounds.
Recently, scientists have begun to use ordinary cold distilled water as a solvent. And thanks to this new method, it was possible to detect all four basic nitrogenous bases in the samples taken from the meteorites. Although scientists feared that the samples of ordinary meteorites could have been contaminated when they fell to Earth, the ones specifically from Ryugu were sterile. Additionally, hot water was used as a solvent during their study.
According to scientists, other biological molecules were also found in the meteorite samples, including a number of amino acids, amines and carboxylic acids, which are found in proteins and thus take part in the metabolism.
Now scientists are looking forward to samples from the asteroid Bennu. The sample-return mission OSIRIS-Rex should arrive on Earth in September 2023. If organic compounds are found in these samples, this would mean that these compounds are much more common in space than previously thought.