Astronomers discover simple sugar molecules floating in gas around a distant star

Aug 30, 2012

Astronomers have announced an interesting discovery around a distant star 400 light years from Earth. The astronomers have discovered simple sugar molecules floating in gas around the star in the Rho Ophiuchi star-forming region. According to the astronomers, the discovery doesn't indicate there's any life around the star in question, but shows that the basic building blocks for life can be found even before planets begin to form.

The scientists also point out that the term sugar loosely refers to carbohydrates or organic molecules that are comprised of oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon. Molecules that the team of scientists discovered are called glycoaldehyde, described as the simplest form of sugar. This substance is found on Earth typically in the form of an odorless white powder.

According to the scientists, this form of sugar isn't used to sweeten foods here on earth, but it is believed to play an important role in the chemical reaction that forms RNA. RNA is ribonucleic acid and is a crucial component of all living cells. The scientists note that they don't yet know how glycoaldehyde is produced in space.

Scientific observations suggest that the glycoaldehyde molecules form on ice covered grains of dust within the dense, cold parts of interstellar molecular clouds. This is the first time that sugar has been discovered so close to the sun like star. Prior to this discovery, glycoaldehyde had only been found in two other places in space. One was at the center of the cloud of gas and dust in the heart of the Milky Way and the other location was inside of a massive star-forming region 26,000 light years from Earth. The star glycoaldehyde was discovered around is called IRAS 16293-2422 and the discovery was made using the Atacama Large Millimeter Array radio telescope in Chile.

[via National Geographic]

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