Sweet! Galactic Molecule Could Point to Alien Life

Article Updated: 24 Dec , 2015
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An organic sugar molecule which is directly linked to the origin of life has been detected in a region of our galaxy where habitable planets could exist. Using the IRAM radio telescope in France, an international team of scientists found the molecule in a massive star forming region of space, about 26,000 light years from Earth. “This is an important discovery, as it is the first time glycolaldehyde, a basic sugar, has been detected near a star-forming region where planets that could potentially harbour life may exist,” said Dr. Serena Viti, one of the paper’s authors. Glycolaldehyde can react to form ribose, a key constituent of the nucleic acid RNA, thought to be the central molecule in the origin of life.

Glycolaldehyde has previously only been detected near the center of our galaxy, where conditions are extreme compared to the rest of the galaxy. But its discovery in an area far from the galactic center in an area known as ‘G31.41+0.31’ 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, because a wide spread of the molecule improves the chances of its existing alongside other molecules vital to life, and in regions where Earth-like planets may exist.

Glycolaldehyde.  Credit: PhysOrg.com
Professor Keith Mason, Chief Executive of the STFC, said that “the discovery of an organic sugar molecule in a star-forming region of space is very exciting and will provide incredibly useful information in our search for alien life. Research like this, combined with the vast array of other astronomical projects involving UK researchers, is continually expanding our knowledge of the Universe and keeping the UK at the forefront of astronomy.”

Read more in the team’s abstract.

Sources: PhysOrg.com, RedOrbit


21 Responses

  1. Huygens says:

    Why do space “artists” always feel the need to populate images of deep space with nebulae?

    Most of those collections of gas and dust cannot even be seen like that in space with ordinary vision, yet everyone who isn’t an actual astronomer has been led to believe that the Universe is full of brightly colored clouds of gas.

    This is similar to the masses being led to believe that every space photo that isn’t full of stars (hey, where’s the nebulae now?) is somehow a fake. Any astronaut will tell you that one cannot see stars when the Sun is also visible in space, just blackness. In LEO on the night side of Earth, that’s when you can see the stars.

    Just picking a nit or two, in an endless effort to enlighten at least a few people.

    Oh, and, hooray on finding a complex organic molecule in interstellar space. Next stop, some alien bacteria.

  2. Jorge says:

    Why do space “artists” always feel the need to populate images of deep space with nebulae?

    Because they’re spectacular?

    I have absolutely no problem with these nebulae in illustrations such as this one, which is clearly allegoric, not intending to represent actual facts. I do, however have problems with the way many alien planets (or solar system KBOs) tend to be represented in illustrations that supposedly depict the reality as science thinks it is, all too often with impossible lighting geometries and the omnipresent nebulae. That’s a whole different matter; if an illustration tries to represent what we think the reality is, it should be realistic. If it’s simply allegoric, then by all means, nebulate it away.

  3. Sofia says:

    Huygens, nebulae are very pretty to see, I think that this is the reason that they appear so frequently in the images.
    From the other hand, if the images were black, we couldn’t see a thing !
    I’ m not an astronomer, so it’ s good to know about the blacness in reality, but when I began to raed astronomy, the objects that I admired and I continue to admire the most, are exactly the nebulae, full of trasparency, shapes and colours…

  4. Annette says:

    “Why do space “artists” always feel the need to populate images of deep space with nebulae?”

    Unless there are giant colorful molecules floating around as well, I’d take it just as a piece of artwork meant to grasp the readers attention.

    It was the colorful images of nebulae from the HST that originally got me hooked on astronomy as a kid. If pretty pictures is what it takes to get people to probe further within their imaginations and to seek out more scientific knowledge, then so be it. 😉

  5. maudyfish says:

    Great Art Work!! Has a little of everything we see in Space.

    It includes: An infinit distance of darkness, a dust ring around a brilliant star, a nebulae, a planet that could be ours, galaxies in the distance that could be a cluster, a galaxy in the foreground, the sturcture of the sugar molecule……..

    LOVELY, Just lovely.

  6. Cathy says:

    Sugar, eh?

    Not just life – GIRL life, y’all!

  7. Gwydion says:

    Well, you wouldn’t be a space artist if you just put out canvases that were a field of black with a red dot or two on it, would you?

    You’d be a postmodernist then. And no one wants to be that.

  8. Huygens says:

    Slap some gaudy colors on some clouds and twinkle a few points of light and the massese are satisfied.

    I wonder if the real reason people like these false-colored and exagerrated nebulae in their space images is because the reality of a vast black void with some distant cold stars in the background is too much for the human mind to handle with its relentless indifference of some talking bugs on a little rock in the middle of nowhere.

    More evidence that most people are not really ready to deal with space, if ever, except in the most abstract and childish sense.

  9. Sofia says:

    Earth is our home planet but it is always a planet in our universe.
    So, if you’re staying out at night in a desert place you can feel the immensity that surrounds you. It’s really scary.
    It’s the light that gives life and warms everything, when the morning comes it’s always a joy.
    And it’s always the light that brings to us all the informations about the universe that we live in.
    That’s why we love to see it , in every possible way.

  10. Trippy says:

    Huygens:

    Maybe you should do some research.

    Did it occur to you that maybe the images of the nebula are included because the original paper discusses the formation of glycoaldehyde in a nebula with hot dense cores (associated with protostar formation).

    The original article refers to a diffuse object labled G31.41+0.31

    Here is a image of G31.41+0.31:
    http://www.astro.wisc.edu/sirtf/diffuseobj/G31.41+0.31UC.jpeg

    Part of GLIMPSE, one of the Spitzer legacy programs.
    http://www.astro.wisc.edu/sirtf/diffuseobj/diffuseobj-index.html
    http://www.astro.wisc.edu/sirtf/index.html

    So the nebula is in the picture, because the sugar is in a nebula.

    I would have thought that if you were going to start picking holes in the factual accuracy of an artistic representation, you would have commented on the use galaxies (one of them is andromeda, I know the name of the other one, but I can’t think of it off hand, elliptical, prominent dust lane, AGN) in the foreground of an image of a nebula that ostensibly occurs in our own milkyway.

  11. watchful stone guardian says:

    Cathy Says:

    Sugar, eh?

    Not just life – GIRL life, y’all!

    ===

    I’m sure that the snips, snails, and puppy-dog tails in the galactic medium are just currently beyond the resolving power of our current technology 😉

  12. Huygens says:

    Sofia Says, gushingly:

    “Earth is our home planet but it is always a planet in our universe.

    So, if you’re staying out at night in a desert place you can feel the immensity that surrounds you. It’s really scary.

    It’s the light that gives life and warms everything, when the morning comes it’s always a joy.

    And it’s always the light that brings to us all the informations about the universe that we live in.

    That’s why we love to see it , in every possible way.”

    And how many nebulae can you actually see while becoming One with the Cosmos in the desert? :^) And what if a desert isn’t available?

  13. Sofia says:

    In the city, where I live, I can’t see the stars, not the nebulae !!! So I’ happy to see them trough the telescopes in the news 🙂
    About the feeling, happened in vacations on a mountain. The sky was full of stars, but it was scary stay out for long in a dark, desert place.
    If there isn’ t any desert, then you are in a city, or in a familiar place in the country, only the astronauts are floating in space. I think that they have a lot of courage to travel so far…

  14. alandee says:

    Hmm, I must need more coffee ..

    How the, what the ?? We’re detecting molecules now .. man, I wish I was 40 years younger, I’d love to see what’s up in 60 years !

    @anyone who picks on artist concepts ..

    There is little more spectacular than looking at a pictures of nebs, besides, I don’t think the sugar molecule is proportionate, and even if it was, I don’t think the background would be in focus, and …..
    An artists job is to portray the story, I think it’s done brilliantly.
    /.

  15. Yael Dragwyla says:

    Huygens — your dyspepsia gets in the way of appreciation of the beauty of the cosmos. BTW, we *never* see things just as they are — what we perceive visually are constructs the brain makes out of data it receives via the eyes. The data themselves are a lot spottier and dull than the way things appear to us to be. The interpretations the brain makes of those data are rich and vibrant. Why reject that richness and vibrancy for the sake of a supposed “realism” that isn’t, actually? The artist just takes those interpretations a few steps farther by aid of imagination and esthetic appreciation, and in the process often brings out truths in his creations that turn out later to be highly significant and useful — and missing from initial “realistic” portrayals of physical reality. Also BTW, calling people “the masses” says a good deal more about the teller’s alienation from his own species than it does about the extremely heterogeneous, complex beings that species comprises. And calling them that only serves to alienate them further, making it less and less possible to engage them in productive discussions about anything. Rather than punishing them, it just cuts you off from your own community and species.

  16. romullis says:

    Huygens, Its the text, you need to ponder on, and thee, artist, gives you something nice to look at, as you think about the text you just read, i hope thats not to simple for you!

  17. Lochana Pahalawatte says:

    Its a really breathtaking artwork, really gets in you into the text. btw, @ Yael Dragwyla, well said man, well said!

  18. Sofia says:

    Very good thoughs Yael Dragwyla !

  19. Trippy says:

    I’ve got a post that’s still awaiting moderation, (presumably because it has links (to photos) in it), however, the point that’s been missed is that if you read the original paper, they’re talking about the formation of this sugar /in a nebula/.

    I also find it oustoundin that someone would pick at the presence and the colours of a nebula, and completely ignore the fact that the image has two galaxies in it as foreground objects.

    The image is abstract, it’s not neccessarily meant to be (scientificaly) accurate

  20. Jorge says:

    Yeal, you make good points, but the fact is that if a given artwork is presented as “reality” and is not realistic, it will induce people in error as what reality is. That’s not the case with this one, which is an allegory illustrative of the point the article makes, but it is the case with many artist representations that do try to actually represent reality as we know it. When these kinds of illustrations show up with impossible lighting geometries or nebulae strewn everywhere, they start working against their intended purpuse.

    Scientific illustration has always been in a difficult equilibrium between rigour and artistry. The graal is to accomplish both. When it sacrifices rigour to artistry, its value as scientific illustration lessens considerably.

  21. ruf says:

    Trippy:
    Good links!

    I believe the other two nebula are the Trifid and The Sombrero Galaxy.

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