Scientists with the European Southern Observatory have discovered a very simple form of sugar circling a star that's very much like our own sun. ESO researchers made their observations with a radio telescope called the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile.
The sugar they found is called glycolaldehyde and it's literally the simplest sugar possible. Because it's so simple it can be formed spontaneously without whole lot of complicated chemistry. That's important because once you've made a simple sugar it's easier to make more complex sugars, complex sugars which are fundamental to life as we understand it. While glycolaldehyde itself might not be all the exciting, it's reasonable to believe that it might be a precursor to greater things.
Here's a quick video showing exactly which star the scientists looked at.
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Scientists have seen this sugar in space before. But in those cases it was always in deep space, far from where it could be useful in the formation of life. What's special about this latest find is that the sugar has been identified close to a star very similar to our own. That's important because it puts something that can facilitate life in proximity to an area where life could theoretically begin.
How the scientists were able to detect such a small molecule is fairly incredible. Molecules in space have very little to bump into so they spin freely. That spin is predictable based upon how the molecules are assembled. As they spin the can absorb and emit radiation just like an asphalt road absorbs and emits heat radiation on a hot day. By looking very closely at the radiation coming out of a particular ball of gas, scientists can actually identify what molecules are in that gas bases solely on the radiation that it's spitting out.