Glycolaldehyde—the simplest sugar—discovered around newly developing star

Sep 10, 2012
A false-color infrared image of the star forming region in the constellation of Ophiuchus. Recent observations have detected simple sugar, glycolaldehyde, around one of the faint, young reddish protostars in the region. Credit: NASA-WISE

(Phys.org)—Astronomers have detected about 180 molecules in interstellar space, from simple ones like carbon monoxide (one atom of carbon and one of oxygen) to complex species like buckminsterfullerene (sixty atoms of carbon) or anthracene (fourteen atoms of carbon and ten of hydrogen). These chemicals are found in a wide variety of environments in the galaxy, and in principle can provide the backbone for the subsequent production of the molecules essential to life.

The search for molecules associated with life however, for example , has been less successful. The simplest sugar is glycolaldehyde (HCOCH2OH). It has been spotted in only two extreme places so far: a massive dense molecular cloud near the galactic center, and a dense core of gas and dust that is forming massive stars. It has not even been found in solar system comets, which are thought to contain samples of material dating from the early .

A new paper in The reports discovering glycolaldehyde in the material around a newly developing star of approximately solar mass. CfA astronomer Tyler Bourke and five colleagues used the new Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) facility in Chile to observe the protostar IRAS16293-2422, located about 400 light-years away. They find thirteen different lines characteristic of this molecule, and their analysis finds that the gas is warm (about 200-300 kelvin) and probably part of a large system of material flowing in towards the star as it grows and develops a system of planets. Although the exact mechanism(s) that produce the glycolaldehyde are uncertain, the new results help confirm that molecules associated with life exist in normal environments around young, solar-mass stars.

The team notes that the new facility will enable astronomers to study this sugar in other places and begin to tell a more complete story of how the rich chemistry found on Earth developed.

Explore further: Image: Hubble serves a slice of stars

Related Stories

Building blocks of life found around young star

Aug 29, 2012

(Phys.org)—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 ...

Stellar embryos

Jan 23, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- Stars form as gravity coalesces the gas and dust in interstellar clouds until the material produces clumps dense enough to become stars. But precisely how this happens, and whether or not ...

Studying a Star Before it is Born

Dec 04, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- The first phase of a star's formation are thought to begin deep inside a natal cloud of gas and dust. In the earliest stages, material coalesces under the influence of gravity into so-called ...

Hot cores in dark clouds

Dec 06, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- The earliest stages in the life of a star are among the most mysterious. This is primarily because stars form inside dark clouds of material that block optical light, and because they form ...

Recommended for you

Image: Hubble serves a slice of stars

58 minutes ago

The thin, glowing streak slicing across this image cuts a lonely figure, with only a few foreground stars and galaxies in the distant background for company.

Evidence of a local hot bubble carved by a supernova

21 hours ago

I spent this past weekend backpacking in Rocky Mountain National Park, where although the snow-swept peaks and the dangerously close wildlife were staggering, the night sky stood in triumph. Without a fire, ...

Astronomers measure weight of galaxies, expansion of universe

Jul 30, 2014

Astronomers at the University of British Columbia have collaborated with international researchers to calculate the precise mass of the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies, dispelling the notion that the two galaxies have similar ...

Mysterious molecules in space

Jul 29, 2014

Over the vast, empty reaches of interstellar space, countless small molecules tumble quietly though the cold vacuum. Forged in the fusion furnaces of ancient stars and ejected into space when those stars ...

User comments : 0