Asteroid Ryugu: Analyzes of two grains have begun in Italy


They will be able to tell us about the birth Solar System. These are two very rare grainsasteroid Ryugu which are 4 billion years old and which finally, once extracted from their special cases, will be analyzed in the coming weeks a purely Italian research team, i.e. from the University of Florence and the National Institute of Nuclear Physics (Infn). So here’s where they come from, what they’re called, and what analysis they’ll do.

History of grain

Two grains were taken from the probe Hayabusa 2 by the Japanese space agency Jaxa, which reached asteroid Ryugu in June 2018, approx 300 million kilometers from us. To collect the debris, Hayabusa 2 made two landings that allowed it to collect 5 grams of rock and dust from the asteroid’s surface. The grains were then sent and landed on Earth on December 6, 2020, carefully placed inside the special capsule of nitrogen-filled steel to prevent contamination.

The names Kiki and Totoro

The two grains analyzed in Italy weigh between 1-2 grams and are about 2 millimeters long. They are called C0242 and A0226, but the Italian team decided that way renaming them while paying homage to Japanese culture, and director Hayao Miyazaki in particular. The names that were assigned were actually chosen by looking at the shape (A0226-Totoro) from the movie My neighbor Totoroboth the Hayabusa-2 mission to send the alien samples (C0242-Kiki) from the film to Earth Kiki – Home Delivery.

Opening containers

The first step is to open the special cases that contain the grains and at the same time allow them to be preserved contamination earth’s atmosphere, which would damage them irreversibly. “For the first time, we will open the containers where they are stored protected atmosphere to be able to perform the first infrared spectroscopic analyses’explains Ernesto PalombaInaf researcher and professor at the Federico II University of Naples who coordinates analytical operations. “We have developed some in recent months “universal” sample holders able to hold each of the two fragments at rest throughout the analysis, which will take several months’.

First analyses: organic matter and water

Investigations will take place for the first information about these grains at the Dafne Luce Synchrotron Light Laboratory at the Infn National Laboratories in Frascati about two weeks. The team will therefore focus on studies mineralogyof organic matter andwaterfall present in these samples. “PUSH synchrotron light of Dafne will make it possible to analyze the microfragments of minerals contained in the grains of asteroid Ryugu in a completely non-destructive way.”explains Mariangela Cestelli GuidiInfn researcher responsible for the infrared synchrotron beam of the Dafne Luce laboratory. “The analyzes will be carried out using a mid-infrared imaging detector and will allow us to highlight the possible presence of traces of organic material, which will provide important information about the physicochemical interactions between organic molecules and minerals that may have played a role inorigin of life on Earth or in other bodies of the Solar System.”

Morphology and chemical composition

The samples will then be transported to the University of Florence, where they will be further analyzed over the next six weeks. “The aim of these further investigations is to characterize morphology and Chemical composition surface of the fragments, which will allow us to have valuable information to help us reconstruct the history of this asteroid but also of our solar system”, concludes Giovanni PratesiProfessor of Planetary Mineralogy at the University of Florence and Head of the Unifi Research Group.


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