Sweet news points to alien life

Astronomers have discovered a type of sugar in deep space and say it indicates that alien life could be common throughout the galaxy.

Telescopes in the AlpsThe sugar – an organic molecule directly linked to the origin of life – was detected in a region of our Milky Way where habitable planets might be found.

UK astronomer Dr Serena Viti, of University College London, was part of the European team that found the sugar in a vast region of space, 26,000 light-years from Earth, where stars are being born.

She and colleagues from Italy, Spain and Switzerland, used a radio telescope at the Plateau de Bure in the French Alps to make the discovery within our own Milky Way galaxy.

Previously the molecule, called glycolaldehyde, had only been detected towards the centre of the galaxy where conditions are thought too extreme for worlds with life.

The new discovery is in a region far from the galactic centre and so may be widely spread throughout the universe. Experts say it boosts the chances that the sugar exists alongside other molecules vital for life including regions where planets like Earth might be found.

It comes after Spitzer data suggested that up to 60 per cent of nearby stars could have rocky worlds like Earth orbiting them. And around 300 planets have so far been detected around other stars, with some even being imaged.

Dr Viti, whose discovery is published online this week, said: “This is an important discovery as it is the first time glycolaldehyde, a basic sugar, has been detected towards a star-forming region where planets that could potentially harbour life may exist.”

Picture: Telescopes at the Plateau de Bure in the French Alps (Photo: Institut de RadioAstronomie Millimétrique).

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Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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