There was evidence of the presence of organic compounds in the samples that were brought back from the near-Earth asteroid Ryugu by the Hayabusa2 mission from Japan.

When the samples were studied, the researchers discovered uracil, which is one of the building components of RNA, and also vitamin B3, sometimes known as niacin. The samples were taken from two distinct regions on the asteroid.

Uracil is a nucleobase, which simply means that it is a chemical that contains nitrogen. In DNA and RNA, the proteins and molecules that hold the genetic information and instructions that are essential for the cells of living beings, one of the five nucleobases that make up these substances is adenine.

On Tuesday, the results were detailed in an article that was published in the journal Nature Communications.

Asteroid Ryugu has the form of a diamond and is composed mostly of carbon. Its width is about one kilometer (3,000 feet). The Hayabusa2 mission was the first one of its kind to successfully bring a subsurface sample back to Earth from an asteroid.

In February of 2019, a mission led by the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency recovered one sample from the surface of the asteroid. After this, the mission fired a copper “bullet” into the asteroid, which created an impact crater that was 33 feet (10 meters) across. In the month of July 2019, a specimen was taken from inside this crater. After that, in December 2020, Hayabusa2 made a flyby of Earth and deposited the sample somewhere in Australia.

Researchers have identified uracil and niacin in meteorites that have fallen on Earth, in addition to finding amino acids and other chemicals in Ryugu’s samples during previous examinations. Niacin and uracil have also been discovered in meteorites.

According to the study’s lead author, Yasuhiro Oba, an associate professor at Hokkaido University in Japan, “Scientists have previously found nucleobases and vitamins in certain carbon-rich meteorites, but there was always the question of contamination by exposure to the Earth’s environment.”  “Since the Hayabusa2 spacecraft collected two samples directly from asteroid Ryugu and delivered them to Earth in sealed capsules, contamination can be ruled out.”

“The discovery of uracil in the samples from Ryugu lends strength to current theories regarding the source of nucleobases in the early Earth,” Oba said. “The OSIRIS-REx mission by NASA will be returning samples from asteroid Bennu this year, and a comparative study of the composition of these asteroids will provide further data to build on these theories.”