Sugar Molecule in Milky Way's Habitable Zone Hints at Possibility of Life
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July 21, 2011

Sugar Molecule in Milky Way's Habitable Zone Hints at Possibility of Life

Stars Scientists recently detected an organic sugar molecule that is directly linked to the origin of life, in a region of our galaxy where habitable planets could exist.  Glycolaldehyde, the simplest of the monosaccharide sugars, can react with the substance propenal to form ribose, a central constituent of Ribonucleic acid (RNA), thought to be the central molecule in the origin of life.

The international team of researchers, including a researcher at University College London (UCL), used the IRAM radio telescope in France to detect the molecule in a massive star forming region of space, some 26000 light years from Earth.

"This is an important discovery as it is the first time glycolaldehyde, a basic sugar, has been detected towards a star-forming region where planets that could potentially harbour life may exist," said
Dr Serena Viti with University College London

Glycolaldehyde  has previously only been detected towards the centre of our galaxy where conditions are extreme compared to the rest of the galaxy. This new discovery, in an area far from the galactic centre, also suggests that the production of this key ingredient for life could be common throughout the galaxy. This is good news in our search for alien life, as a wide spread of the molecule improves the chances of it existing along side other molecules vital to life and in regions where Earth-like planets may exist.

The team was able to detect glycolaldehyde by using the telescope to observe the region with high-angular resolution and at different wavelengths. The observations confirmed the presence of three lines of glycolaldegyde towards the most central part of the core of the region.

The Daily Galaxy via University College London

Comments

I'd say it's a bit more than a "hint" -- though certainly a far cry from "proof." I'd call it just a "very encouraging sign."

And, for me at least, it's hardly a surprise.

What I'm seeing in the sky (metaphorically speaking) tells me that we will probably find the Milky Way to be a rich place full of life. How much of it we'd be able to eat and/or domesticate is a puzzle, but there are probably thousands of planets in the galaxy where, if we could get to them, we could step right out and explore without need for special equipment.

The information is so fascinating! Life is what matter does given the right conditions. Though exotic forms of life can theoretically exist in extreme conditions, I think evolution will take the easier path and favour carbon forms of life in moderate, rocky, earth-like planets like Gliese 581g. If that is case, then we will surely have our carbon brothers just a few light years away. This discovery is surely a hint that carbon based life might be in plenty. It is just that the huge distances prevent us from knowing it.

This is very encouraging indeed. The amount of progress we are making towards the proof of life off our little rock is amazing. It seems that every week there is some new news. I cannot wait for the day that we have proof. What a day that will be.

Yawn, Wake me when they find High-Fructose corn syrup.

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