Japanese Scientists May Have Finally Discovered The Origin Of The Ryugu Asteroid

ESA 2010 MPS for OSIRIS Team Getty Images

After several months of study with Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft, scientists believe they have finally discovered the origin of the Ryugu asteroid, and have suggested that it was formed from one of two other asteroid parents.

As the New York Post reports, the Hayabusa2 spacecraft first touched down on Ryugu late last year, and in February, successfully shot a projectile into the asteroid in order to extract a sample from the large rock.

After months of studying Ryugu, Japanese scientists have admitted that while accurately determining where the asteroid came from won’t be an easy task, analysis of the asteroid’s color has helped them to considerably narrow down the pool of potential parents.

In a new study, scientists have detailed many of Ryugu’s attributes, which they have noticed in images captured by Hayabusa2. Through observation of these images, they have determined that a prospective parent of the Ryugu asteroid must have held water ice on its surface, even if it was only very small amounts, and also noted that there may have been “organic molecules” on this parent as well.

The Ryugu asteroid’s color is highly unique, and its darkness led scientists to believe that it may even be one of the darkest celestial objects to be found anywhere in the solar system.

While images of the asteroid may not necessarily appear dark, this is only because these images were captured so that the asteroid’s most intricate details could be revealed, and don’t demonstrate just how dark Ryugu really is.

“Ryugu is among the darkest known bodies in the Solar System. The high abundance and spectral properties of boulders are consistent with moderately dehydrated materials, analogous to thermally metamorphosed meteorites found on Earth. The general uniformity in color across Ryugu’s surface supports partial dehydration due to internal heating of the asteroid’s parent body,” a recent study of the asteroid detailed.

It is the darkness of Ryugu which has led scientists to speculate that they have finally tracked down two possibilities for its parents. The first of these possibilities is an asteroid called Polana, which spans 55 kilometers across, and the second is an asteroid known as Eulalia.

This second asteroid is much smaller than the first, measuring 37 kilometers in width. However, both of these prospective parents are much larger than Ryugu, which only stretches for 900 meters.

The new study, which has used images from the Hayabusa2 spacecraft to narrow down the list of possibilities for Ryugu’s parents to two asteroids, has been published in Science.