Astronomers discover sugar in space | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 31.08.2012
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Astronomers discover sugar in space

Astronomers have made a sweet discovery 400 light years away. They found sugar in the gas surrounding a star similar to the Earth's own sun.

The sugar researchers found is likely to neither taste sweet nor be packed into a cube. But 400 light years away from Earth in the billowing clouds of gas around a forming star, researchers led by Jes Jorgensen from Copenhagen's Niels Bohr Institute have found the substance loathed by dentists worldwide: sugar molecules.

"In the disc of gas and dust surrounding this newly formed star, we found glycolaldehyde, which is a simple form of sugar, not much different to the sugar we put in coffee," Jes Jorgensen said in a statement.

Chemical compounds reveal themselves through the emission of a specific light known as luminescence. This phenomenon is apparent on Earth in objects such as common street lights, which cast a yellow glow because of sodium.

In the sugar found near the star, which has a mass similar to the sun's and is known as IRAS 16293-2422, is similar to a white, odorless powder or non-dairy creamer. The presence of the sugar is exciting to astronomers because the organic molecule may be an essential "building block" to form life.

"For us it was interesting to see where these ingredients come from," said Markus Pössel of the European Southern Observatory. "This is the first demonstration of this simple form of sugar in the gas of a young star. We now know that glycolaldehyde may be present already during the formation of a planet."

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