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December 12, 2014

Sugar molecules found in gas around star (Image 2)

An artist's conception of the molecular structure of glycolaldehyde (C2H4O2), a simple form of sugar that was found in the gas surrounding a young, sun-like binary star named IRAS 16293-2422 by a team of astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). Carbon atoms are gray, oxygen atoms are red and hydrogen atoms are white. IRAS 16293-2422 is located in the Rho Ophiuchi star-forming region, a dark nebula of gas and dust and one of the closest star-forming regions to our solar system.

Although glycolaldehyde has been seen in interstellar space before--it was detected in 2000 using the National Science Foundation's (NSF) 12-meter telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory and in 2004 using NSF's Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope--this is the first time it has been found so near to a sun-like star and at distances comparable to the distance of Uranus from the sun in our solar system. This discovery shows that some of the chemical compounds needed for life existed in this system at the time of planet formation.

ALMA is supported by an international partnership that includes NSF.

To learn more about this discovery, see the European Southern Observatory news story Sweet result from ALMA. (Date of Image: 2012) [Image 2 of 3 related images. See Image 3.]

Credit: ESO/L. Calcada

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