by Staff Writers
Santiago (AFP) Aug 29, 2012
Astronomers using a powerful radio telescope in Chile said Wednesday that they had discovered sugar molecules, one of the building blocks of life, orbiting a young star similar to the Sun.
"This is the first time sugar been found in space around such a star," the European Southern Observatory (ESO), which is administering the project, said Wednesday.
The astronomers found glycolaldehyde, a sugar compound described as essential to the existence of life, in the gas surrounding the star, located some 400 light-years from Earth, it said.
The discovery "shows that the building blocks of life are in the right place, at the right time, to be included in planets forming around the star."
Because the star is similar to our sun, the finding "shows that some of the chemical compounds needed for life existed in this (solar) system at the time of planet formation," the ESO said.
The discovery was made possible by the high sensitivity of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), an international project still under construction and slated for completion in 2013.
ALMA has 66 antennas exploring the universe via radio waves emitted by galaxies, stars and other bodies not captured by optical and infrared telescopes, which only receive light.
The ESO operates three sites in Chile.
The Very Large Telescope (VLT) array -- a cluster of four telescopes that can view objects four billion times fainter than those visible to the naked eye -- is housed at the ESO's Paranal site in Chile's Atacama Desert.
The ESO is supported by Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Britain, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
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Japanese spacecraft to search for clues of Earth's first life
Washington DC (SPX) Aug 30, 2012
In a Physics World special report on Japan, Dennis Normile reports on how the Japanese space agency JAXA plans to land a spacecraft onto an asteroid in 2018 to search for clues of how life began on Earth. Hayabusa 2 will be JAXA's second attempt at collecting material from an asteroid, after its first mission returned to Earth in June 2010. Hayabusa 2 will be launched in 2014 with a view t ... read more
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