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Sweet! Astronomers Spot Sugar Molecule Near Star

By Austin Amuzie - Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Astronomers say that, for the first time, they have discovered one of the ingredients of life — sugar — in a gas cloud surrounding a young star.

The team of European and American astronomers says it spotted a simple sugar molecule called glycolaldehyde near a 10,000-year-old star similar to the sun.

Glycolaldehyde is needed to form ribonucleic acid, or RNA, which is similar in function to DNA.
Jes Jorgensen of the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, Denmark, said Wednesday that the glycolaldehyde was likely formed by radiation from the star hitting even simpler molecules floating through space.

The star, called IRAS 16293-2422, is about 400 light years from Earth.
The young star, called IRAS 16293-2422, is part of a binary (or two-star) system. It has a similar mass to the sun and is located about 400 light-years away in the constellation of Ophiuchus. The sugar molecules, known as glycolaldehyde, have previously been detected in interstellar space, but according to the researchers, this is the first time they have been spotted so close to a sun-like star.
In fact, the molecules are about the same distance away from the star as the planet Uranus is from our sun.

Astronomers found the sugar molecules using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) radio telescope in Chile. Using ALMA, the astronomers monitored the sugar molecules and found that they are falling toward one of the stars in the binary system, explained study researcher Cécile Favre, of Aarhus University in Denmark. [7 Theories on the Origin of Life]
"The sugar molecules are not only in the right place to find their way onto a planet, but they are also going in the right direction," Favre said in a statement.

Details of the discovery at the European Southern Observatory in Chile will be published in the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters.

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