The sample shows that Rguyu is made from some of the most pristine material ever seen. ©JAXA

Read later


During Beta testing articles may only be saved for seven days.

Ancestral asteroid reveals secrets of our solar system

New chemical analyses of the asteroid Ryugu has concluded that its make up is similar to that of our Sun. The samples, some of the most pristine ever collected, have led scientists to believe that the asteroid formed within 5 million years of the birth of our solar system.

A sample of Ryugu weighing just 5g was collected from the asteroid and brought to Earth by Japan’s Hayabusa2 space probe in 2020. Since then, teams around the world have been working on the small amount of sand and dust in a global effort to unlock its secrets. What makes the samples so special is that they were collected in space directly from the Ryugu asteroid and have remained un- contaminated.

Prof Sara Russell, Senior Research Lead at the Natural History Museum and an author on the new paper said, ‘This research marks a huge success and proof of concept for collecting samples from asteroids in space. It reminds me of Sir Walter Raleigh bringing back a potato from the Americas!

When meteorites fall to earth, they instantly become contaminated by our atmosphere and later by the surroundings in which they land. The samples that have been collected by Hayabusa2 are pristine and uncontaminated meaning we can say with confidence that what we find when analysing the chemistry of Ryugu is what is present in the asteroid.’

Metorites that fall to earth often act like a sponge soaking up water and compromising their composition. This means that examples like the Ivuna meteorite which fell to earth in Tanzania in 1938 have a far higher percentage of water present than they likely would have had as an asteroid in space.

Further analysis of the samples collected hope to reveal more about how the asteroid formed and in doing so unlock the secrets of how our solar system formed.

Prof Sara Russell concludes, ‘Understanding the chemical makeup of asteroids like Ryugu is essential to our understanding of how our solar system formed.

‘The initial analysis of Ryugu shows strong similarities to meteorites like Ivuna, which shows that we can use our meteorite collection here at the Natural History Museum and the data we have collected on meteorites to feed into space mission results.

‘Due to Ryugu’s composition we now effectively have a better baseline of what the solar system is made up of. This will allow us to track changes through time and understand better the process by which solar systems are formed and age.’

The paper Samples returned from the asteroid Ryugu are similar to Ivuna-type carbonaceous meteorites is published in the journal Science.

Notes to editors

Natural History Media contact: Tel: +44 (0)20 7942 5654 / 07799690151 Email:  

Images available to download here.

The Natural History Museum is both a world-leading science research centre and the most-visited indoor attraction in the UK last year. With a vision of a future in which both people and the planet thrive, it is uniquely positioned to be a powerful champion for balancing humanity’s needs with those of the natural world.

It is custodian of one of the world’s most important scientific collections comprising over 80 million specimens accessed by researchers from all over the world both in person and via over 30 billion digital data downloads to date. The Museum’s 350 scientists are finding solutions to the planetary emergency from biodiversity loss through to the sustainable extraction of natural resources.

The Museum uses its global reach and influence to meet its mission to create advocates for the planet - to inform, inspire and empower everyone to make a difference for nature. We welcome millions of visitors through our doors each year, our website has had 17 million visits in the last year and our touring exhibitions have been seen by around 20 million people in the last 10 years.