Sugar in Space

// September 4th, 2012 // Science News

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Ophiuchus constellationUsing the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) radio telescope in Chile, astronomers have found glycolaldehyde, which is a simple form of sugar not much different than table sugar we put in our coffee, near a young star called RAS 16293-2422.  Astronomers have found sugar-like structures in space before but this time it’s a bit different.  The RAS 16293-2422 star is part of a binary star system (two stars) and has about the same mass as the Sun.  Jes Jorgensen explained:

Astronomers discover sugar in RAS 16293-2422In 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.  Glycolaldehyde can react with a substance called propenal to form ribose, which is a major component of RNA, or ribonucleic acid. RNA is similar to DNA, which is considered one of the primary molecules in the origin of life.

The young star is located about 400 million light years away from Earth in the constellation of Ophiuchus.  Since this is relatively close to Earth, astronomers will be able to continue monitoring the system and study the molecular and chemical makeup up the gas and dust that surround the young star.

Ophiuchus is located between Aquila, Serpens and Hercules, northwest of the center of the Milky Way. The southern part lies between Scorpius to the west and Sagittarius to the east. In the northern hemisphere, it is best visible in summer. It is located opposite Orion in the sky.

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