Jan. 23 (UPI) -- Scientists have detected the prebiotic molecule glycolonitrile inside a distant star for the first time. Researchers think the molecule may have played a role in the emergence of life on Earth.
Glycolonitrile is considered an important precursor to adenine, one of the nucleobases that forms both DNA and RNA. Astronomers detected the organic chemical's signature inside a solar-type protostar named IRAS16293-2422 B.
By studying the chemical makeup of infant stars, still enveloped by a thick blanket of gas and dust, scientists can gain a better understanding of how the chemical ingredients necessary for life come to exist inside a young stellar system.
Researchers in Europe and the United States were able to locate glycolonitrile among the spectral signature recorded by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array in Chile.
"We have shown that this important pre-biotic molecule can be formed in the material from which stars and planets emerge, taking us a step closer to identifying the processes that may have led to the origin of life on Earth," Shaoshan Zeng, astronomer at Queen Mary University of London, said in a news release.
Using ALMA's observations, scientists were able to model how chemical reactions inside the protostar produced glycolonitrile.
Scientists described their efforts this week in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
The researchers responsible for the latest discovery previously discovered a related chemical, methyl isocyanate, in the same star. Methyl isocyanate and glycolonitrile feature different arrangements of the same combination of atoms.