A team of astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) has spotted sugar molecules in the gas surrounding a young Sun-like star.
This is the first time sugar been found in space around such a star, and the discovery shows that the building blocks of life are in the right place, at the right time, to be included in planets forming around the star.
The astronomers found molecules of glycolaldehyde—a simple form of sugar—in the gas surrounding a young binary star, with similar mass to the Sun, called IRAS 16293-2422.
Glycolaldehyde has been seen in interstellar space before, but this is the first time it has been found so near to a Sun-like star, at distances comparable to the distance of Uranus from the Sun in the Solar System.
This discovery shows that some of the chemical compounds needed for life existed in this system at the time of planet formation.
"In the disc of gas and dust surrounding this newly formed star, we found glycolaldehyde, which is a simple form of sugar, not much different to the sugar we put in coffee," explains Jes Jørgensen (Niels Bohr Institute, Denmark), the lead author of the paper.
"This molecule is one of the ingredients in the formation of RNA, which—like DNA, to which it is related—is one of the building blocks of life."