Astronomers using a powerful radio telescope in Chile said on Wednesday that they had discovered sugar molecules, one of the building blocks of life, orbiting a young star similar to the Sun.
"This is the first time sugar been found in space around such a star," the European Southern Observatory (ESO), which is administering the project, said Wednesday.
The astronomers found glycolaldehyde, a sugar compound described as essential to the existence of life, in the gas surrounding the star, located some 400 light-years from Earth, it said.
The discovery "shows that the building blocks of life are in the right place, at the right time, to be included in planets forming around the star."
Because the star is similar to our sun, the finding "shows that some of the chemical compounds needed for life existed in this (solar) system at the time of planet formation," the ESO said.
The discovery was made possible by the high sensitivity of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), an international project still under construction and slated for completion in 2013.
ALMA has 66 antennas exploring the universe via radio waves emitted by galaxies, stars and other bodies not captured by optical and infrared telescopes, which only receive light.
The ESO operates three sites in Chile.
The Very Large Telescope (VLT) array - a cluster of four telescopes that can view objects four billion times fainter than those visible to the naked eye - is housed at the ESO's Paranal site in Chile's Atacama Desert.
The ESO is supported by Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Britain, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.