Astronomers have made the sweetest discovery of all time. It’s not a new nebula shaped like a candy cane or the nougat filled center of the Milky Way, it’s a young star surrounded by sugar. Believe it or not, this isn’t just another neat little spacey find, it’s changing the way scientists look at the origins of life and also happens to be the most pun-tastic subject a science writer could hope for.
This isn’t the first time the sugar molecule, Glycolaldehyde, has been seen floating in space but it is the first time it’s been found so close to a star. According to Space.com, this delicious find was made using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile. Astronomers Cécile Favre and Jes Jørgensen discovered the young star IRAS 16293-2422, which is part of a binary system, was actually surrounded by a cloud of gas that contained the sugar molecule. The sugar molecules are currently at about the orbit of Uranus out from the star but seem to be slowly making their way closer, meaning that they could very well be on their way to become part of newly formed planets near the star. Jørgensen explains what makes this find so interesting.
In the disk 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… 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.
Seen so early in a solar system’s development this could have a huge impact on how quickly all the materials necessary for life (as we know it) make it onto a new planet. The young star is located just 400 light years away, close enough for astronomers to do some pretty extensive follow-up and see how these molecules evolve as they eventually make their way onto any possible newly formed planets….which is pretty sweet. OK, I’ll stop now.