The Hayabusa2 mission successfully collected samples from the asteroid Ryugu last year and will return these to Earth in December 2020. It is anticipated that the samples will enable the analysis of terrestrially uncontaminated organic matter and minerals. Such analyses are in turn expected to elucidate the evolution of organic matter through Solar System history, including the origination and processing of biogenically important molecules, which could have been utilized by the first organisms on Earth. In anticipation, studies have made predictions concerning the properties of Ryugu, including its composition. The spectral characteristics of Ryugu, such as albedo, have been employed to relate the asteroid to members of the carbonaceous chondrite group that have been identified on Earth. However, the recent Hayabusa2 touchdown highlights a disparity between the color of surfaces of displaced platy fragments, indicating a brightening trend for the surface exposed to space compared to that facing into the body. Here we present a mass balance calculation with reference to data from the literature, which indicates that Ryugu may contain a significantly higher abundance of organic matter (likely >50%) than the currently most accepted meteorite analogues. A high organic content may result in high levels of extractable organic matter for the second touchdown site, where the spacecraft sampled freshly exposed material. However, high abundances of insoluble aromatic/graphitic rich organic matter may be present in the first touchdown site, which sampled the surface of Ryugu that had been exposed to space. Moreover, we suggest that the potentially high organic abundance and the rubble-pile nature of Ryugu may originate from the capture of rocky debris by a comet nucleus and subsequent water-organic-mineral interactions and sublimation of water ice.
- Albedo. Astrobiology 20, 916-921
- Organic matter
- Sample return
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
- Space and Planetary Science