• The Hayabusa 2 space mission brought back to earth samples taken from a carbonaceous asteroid.

  • Several of these samples, 4.5 billion years old, were entrusted to a team of scientists from the University of Lille.

  • Analyzes of these primitive materials, launched in early September, should provide a better understanding of the formation of the solar system.

Since the beginning of September, the team of Professor Hugues Leroux, at the Materials and Transformation Unit of the University of Lille, has had in its hands two samples of a very precious material. These are tiny grains of dust, invisible to the naked eye, collected in 2020 from a carbonaceous asteroid by the Japanese space mission Hayabusa 2. However small they may be, these samples could in particular provide answers on the formation of our solar system.

The Hayabusa 2 mission brought back to Earth only 5 grams of this extraterrestrial matter.

“The small size of this asteroid has allowed dust on its surface not to have evolved since the formation of the solar system.

So we have in front of us material that is 4.5 billion years old.

It's a dive in time to try to fathom the state of matter at that time, ”enthuses Hugues Leroux.

The analysis of these primitive materials is thus full of promise, in particular because it is the first time that scientists have had samples of a carbonaceous asteroid.

"It is a matter which has no equivalent on Earth"

Hugues Leroux's team therefore began the study of this extraterrestrial matter, “from the micrometer scale to the atom” using the university's high-tech electron microscope. “It is a matter that has no equivalent on Earth. We look in particular at its layout, its chemical composition, the size of the grains that compose it, ”explains the scientist. The first results have already shown some differences with known meteorites: "it is more porous and we have a different microstructure that we are trying to understand", advances Hugues Leroux, limited in his explanations by very partial results and a science embargo.

What follows could prove to be crucial in understanding how water appeared in the inner solar system, that is, the first four planets, including Earth.

“We're going to look for water in these objects.

Not in liquid or ice form, but in hydrated silicate form.

And the first analyzes of the samples show that there are many, ”explains the scientist.

It remains to be determined whether these silicates contributed to dispersing water in the solar system, "including where liquid water or in the form of ice was not possible," adds Hugues Leroux.

The Lille researchers working on the project, called TEM-Aster, will deliver a first progress report on their preliminary studies in early 2022. Another study cycle will then begin, which should last several years.


Researchers from the University of Lille will work on the origin of the solar system


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  • Space

  • Solar system

  • Science

  • Lille