Sept. 21 (UPI) — The asteroid Ryugu is a loose assemblage of fragments from a collision between two asteroids, according to new research published Monday in the journal Nature Astronomy.
Some asteroids are composed of large, solid pieces of rock, but Ryugu is more like a rubble pile than a rock. It is too small and fragile to have remained intact for very long — scientists estimate Ryugu formed between 10 million to 20 million years ago.
“Ryugu is too small to have survived the whole 4.6 billion years of solar system history,” Seiji Sugita, professor of planetary sciences at the University of Tokyo in Japan, said in a news release. “Ryugu-sized objects would be disrupted by other asteroids within several hundred million years on average.”
“We think Ryugu spent most of its life as part of a larger, more solid parent body,” Sugita said. “This is based on observations by Hayabusa-2 which show Ryugu is very loose and porous. Such bodies are likely formed from reaccumulations of collision debris.”
For the latest study, scientists used images collected by Hayabusa-2 to identify the different types of rock on Ryugu. Researchers were able to uncover clues to the asteroid’s violent past by analyzing the ratios of different rock types.
“Ryugu is considered a C-type, or carbonaceous, asteroid, meaning it’s primarily composed of rock that contains a lot of carbon and water,” said postdoctoral researcher Eri Tatsumi. “As expected, most of the surface boulders are also C-type; however, there are a large number of S-type, or siliceous, rocks as well. These are silicate-rich, lack water-rich minerals and are more often found in the inner, rather than outer, solar system.”
The presence of siliceous rocks suggests Ryugu was formed from the rubble created by a collision between between a small S-type asteroid and a larger C-type asteroid.
“We used the optical navigation camera on Hayabusa2 to observe Ryugu’s surface in different wavelengths of light, and this is how we discovered the variation in rock types. Among the bright boulders, C and S types have different albedos, or reflective properties,” said Tatsumi.
Once Hayabusa-2 returns rock samples to Earth, scientists plan to compare the asteroids geochemical composition to meteorites samples found on Earth.
“This could in turn tell us something new about the history of Earth and the solar system as a whole,” Tatsumi said.