Dec 9, 2008

Outer Space Sugars Are All The Rage

Glycolaldehyde. Interesting name. Glycolaldehyde is a "sugar" molecule, and the smallest possible molecule to contain the requirements for a sugar. It is the simplest possible sugar.

Why does this matter? This glycolaldehyde is a very crucial part of the processes that lead to the life we know and understand. This simple sugar combines with ribose to become a central constituent of ribonucleic acid (RNA). In essence, without this simplest of sugars, life as we know it would not exist.
What makes great waves is that this simple sugar has been discovered in a star-forming region of our Galaxy, and not too far away, relatively speaking.

An international team of scientists used the IRAM radio telescope in France to detect glycolaldehyde in a massive star-forming region of space, some 26,000 light-years from Earth. (One light-year is the distance light will travel in a year, or about 6 trillion miles, or 10 trillion km.)
They looked for the emission of certain wavelengths within the radio part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Molecules each emit a distinctive band of radio wavelengths, which can be used as a fingerprint for the molecules.
This sugar had been found nearer the center of our galaxy, but not in young, star forming regions of our galaxy. This seems to open up the possibilities that the ingredients for our form of life, which may be the only form of life there is, are quite common, in the astronomical sense.

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