mineral sample ryugu asteroid
© JAXA
Minerals of the Ryugu sample, reported on June 10, 2022 by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).
Dust from an asteroid collected by a Japanese space probe contains clues to the origin of life, suggesting it was formed in space, scientists reported Friday.

Japan's Hayabusa2 space mission dropped samples from the asteroid Ryugu to Earth in the Australian outback in December 2020. It was then moved to Japan to be studied for insights into the origins of the solar system and life on Earth.

Scientists most recently announced the finding included nearly two dozen types of amino acids in the sample, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said.

Finding amino acids is a big deal, because they make proteins and are necessary to support life. This is also the first time they've been found on an asteroid, the Japan Times reported

rygu asteroid samples origin of life
© JAXA
The spacecraft Hayabusa2 launched in 2014 and didn't arrive at Ryugu until 2018.
University of Chicago researcher Geochemist Nicolas Dauphas who worked with a Japan-led international team of scientists to analyze the sample, said scientist previously only had a handful of the rocks to study - all meteorites that fell to earth and were stored in museums for decades, which changed their compositions.

"Having pristine samples from outer space is simply incredible. They are witnesses from parts of the solar system that we have not otherwise explored," Dauphas released in a statement.

"Usually, all we get to study of asteroids is the pieces that are big enough to make it to the ground as meteorites," said Geochemist Andrew M. Davis, another member of the analysis team. "If you took this handful and dropped it in the atmosphere, it would burn up. You would lose it, and a lot of evidence about the history of this asteroid would go with it.

"We really haven't had a sample like this before. It's spectacular."
ryugu asteroid samples
© JAXA/Yokoyama et al.
Left: A photograph of the rocks retrieved by Hayabusa2 from the asteroid Ryugu. Right: a zoomed-in image of the structure of one of the pieces, taken by an electron microscope.
In 2018, Hayabusa2 landed on Ryugu and collected particles from above and below its surface, JAXA reported. It returned to Earth with a sealed capsule containing about five grams of dust and rock.
Natalie Neysa Alund covers trending news for USA TODAY. Reach her at nalund@usatoday.com and follow her on Twitter @nataliealund.