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Methanol Discovered For The First Time In The Protoplanetary Disk Of Young Star ‘TW Hydra’

First Posted: May 29, 2017 04:40 AM EDT

Scientists have discovered methanol for the first time in the protoplanetary disk of a young and distant star. The discovery is important because methanol is a complex organic compound that functions as a key building block of life. Now, it has been detected around TW Hydrae, which can help researchers know more about the chemistry that takes place when a planet forms, ultimately getting more insight into the emergence of life.

According to The Space Reporter, TW Hydrae is a young star about 5 to 10 million years old that has 80 percent of the Sun’s mass. It is located 170 light-years away and has the nearest protoplanetary disk to Earth. The TW Hydrae star system represents how a younger solar system may have looked like during its formation 4 billion years ago.

Scientists have observed that the methanol seems to be located in a ring that is 30 astronomical units from the star. Furthermore, the research team has suggested that the methanol gas probably originated from the methanol ice located a bit further away from TW Hydrae.

"Methanol is a crucial molecule because it has been shown in laboratory ice experiments to be a feedstock of more complex and larger molecules," study lead author Catherine Walsh said. The successful discovery of methanol in a protoplanetary disk is a compelling evidence for the presence of larger molecules, too.

The scientists could know more about the amounts of the other organic compounds that may exist within the icy, comet-forming materials that orbit stars by measuring the methanol levels. These complex organic molecules may have helped create life on Earth.

"It has been suggested that comets contributed some, if not all, of the organic feedstock to the young Earth needed to initiate or drive life," Walsh added. "The presence of organic-rich comets in other disks suggests that the basic ingredients for initiating or driving life are also present in these disks." For now, the scientists are working on understanding the presence of methanol gas in a different region of the disk than they had earlier thought.

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