Ryugu asteroid surprises researchers |  Technology news

Ryugu asteroid surprises researchers | Technology news

In December 2020, a small landing capsule brought rocky particles from the asteroid Ryugu to Earth’s material from the beginnings of our solar system.

In December 2020, a small landing capsule brought rocky particles from the asteroid Ryugu to Earth’s material from the beginnings of our solar system. The Japanese space probe Hayabusa 2 collected samples. Geologists have now discovered areas with a massive accumulation of rare earths and unexpected structures.

Frank Brinker and his team are world leaders in a method that makes it possible to analyze the chemical composition of the material in a completely non-destructive 3D manner and without complex sample preparation – but with an accuracy of less than 100 nanometers. Resolution expresses the smallest appreciable difference between two measured values. The long name of this method is “Synchrotron Radiation X-ray Computed Tomography” for short SR-XRF-CT.

Japan chose Ryugu (Dragon’s Palace) as the destination for the probe because it is an asteroid that, due to its high carbon content, promises to provide particularly comprehensive information about the origin of life in our solar system. Analyzes conducted by researchers with scientists in Frankfurt on 16 particles showed that Ryugu consists of CI-type material. These are very similar to the sun in terms of chemical composition. Until now, CI is rarely found on Earth – substances that have not been clear how much they will be altered or polluted when they enter Earth’s atmosphere or when they hit our planet. Furthermore, the analysis confirms the assumption that Ryugu originated from a native asteroid that formed in the outer solar nebula.

Until now, scientists assumed that there was no transport of material inside the asteroid due to the low temperatures during the formation of CI material in the early days of the solar system, and therefore there is rarely any possibility of a massive accumulation of elements. Using SR-XRF-CT, researchers in Frankfurt found a fine vein of magnetite — an iron oxide mineral — and hydroxyapatite, a phosphate mineral, in one of the asteroid’s grains. Other groups of scientists have established that the structure and other regions of magnetite in the Ryugu samples must have formed at a surprisingly low temperature of less than 40 degrees Celsius. This result is fundamental to the interpretation of nearly all results generated by the analysis of the Ryugu samples and will be produced in the future.

In areas of samples containing hydroxyapatite, Frank Brinker’s team has also discovered rare earth minerals – a group of chemical elements that are indispensable today for alloys and glassware for high-tech applications, among others. “Rare earths are found in the asteroid’s hydroxyapatite in concentrations 100 times higher than anywhere else in the solar system,” Brinker says. What’s more, he says, all elements of rare earth metals accumulated in the phosphate mineral to the same degree – which is also unusual. Brinker is convinced: “This even distribution of rare earths is an additional indication that Ryugu is a very original asteroid that represents the beginnings of our solar system.”

It is by no means normal that researchers from Goethe University in Frankfurt were allowed to examine samples from the Hayabusa 2: After all, Japan carried out this space mission on its own and, according to information from 2010, collected 123 million euros for it. So she also wants to reap a large part of the scientific crop. But in the end, Japan did not want to abandon the expertise of German specialists in the SR-XRF-CT.

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