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First-Ever Sugar Molecules Discovered in Space Could Give Clues to 'How Life Might Arise Elsewhere

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"...not much different to the sugar we put in coffee."

BERLIN (TheBlaze/AP) -- Astronomers say that, for the first time, they have discovered one of the ingredients of life - sugar - in a gas cloud surrounding a young star.

The team of European and American astronomers says it spotted a simple sugar molecule called glycolaldehyde near a 10,000-year-old star similar to the sun.

Glycolaldehyde is needed to form ribonucleic acid, or RNA, which is similar in function to DNA.

Jes Jorgensen of the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, Denmark, said Wednesday that the glycolaldehyde was likely formed by radiation from the star hitting even simpler molecules floating through space.

"In the disk 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," Jorgensen said in a statement, according to Space.com. "This molecule is one of the ingredients in the formation of RNA, which — like DNA, to which it is related — is one of the building blocks of life."

The star, called IRAS 16293-2422, is about 400 light years from Earth. The molecules was found using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope at the European Southern Observatory in Chile.

Space.com reports study researcher Cécile Favre with Aarhus University in Denmark saying the molecules were observed falling toward the star indicating they are "not only in the right place to find their way onto a planet, but they are also going in the right direction."

Watch this animation of the discovery via Space.com:

Overall, Jorgesen said the "big question" is how complex these molecules would need to become before being incorporated into new planets.

"This could tell us something about how life might arise elsewhere, and ALMA observations are going to be vital to unravel this mystery," Jorgesen said.

Details of the discovery will be published in the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Featured image via Shutterstock.com.

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