The recent study published in Nature Astronomy suggests that micrometeorites from icy celestial bodies in the outer Solar System may have transported nitrogen compounds to the near-Earth region in the early solar system. This finding was made by an international team of researchers, including those from the University of Hawai’i at Manoa.

The discovery implies that more nitrogen compounds than previously recognized were transported near Earth, potentially serving as building blocks for life on our planet. The scientists examined samples from Ryugu, an asteroid rich in carbon, that had been brought back to Earth by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft in 2020. They found evidence of iron nitride on the surface of the Ryugu samples, suggesting that micrometeorite collisions triggered chemical reactions leading to the formation of the iron nitride. This process may have occurred as a result of the exposure to space weathering and impacts from micrometeorites.

The iron nitride was observed on the surface of magnetite, a mineral composed of iron and oxygen atoms, leading to the formation of metallic iron which reacted with ammonia to create the ideal conditions for the synthesis of iron nitride. This study provides important insights into the transport of nitrogen compounds to Earth’s orbit and their potential role as building blocks for life.

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