Astronomers have discovered complex organic molecules in a cloud of gas and dust that is on its way to becoming an infant star. It is the youngest protostar yet found to contain such compounds.
A team led by Chin-Fei Lee of the Academia Sinica Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics in Taipei targeted an object called Herbig–Haro 212, which lies 400 parsecs (1,300 light years) away, in the constellation Orion. The embryonic star at its centre is only about 40,000 years old. Using the ALMA telescope in Chile, the scientists detected complex organic molecules, including methanol, above and below the protostellar disk.
The discovery suggests that such materials, which are building blocks of life, are available very early in the evolution of solar systems.