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Aussie scientists discover key feature of life outside solar system

Aussie scientists discover key feature of life outside solar system
Dwarf planet Ceres is seen in the main asteroid belt, between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, as illustrated in this undated artist's conception released by NASA January 22, 2014. Ceres, one of the most intriguing objects in the solar system, is gushing water vapor from its frigid surface into space, scientists said on Wednesday in a finding that raises questions about whether it might be hospitable to life. REUTERS/NASA/ESA/Handout via Reuters (OUTER SPACE - Tags: SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY) THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS

Canberra: Australia’s Parkes Observatory telescope has discovered a molecule which displays key attributes associated with life, in a breakthrough set to help scientists solve the mystery of biology in space.

Chirality, or “handedness” is a key attribute related closely with life, but homochirality, or being exclusively either “left or right handed”, has never been discovered outside of Earth, until the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation’s (CSIRO’s) Parkes telescope found the ‘handed’ molecule propylene oxide.

Dr John Reynolds, Director of Operations at CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science, said the discovery will give scientists the chance to further research how the Universe can contribute to sustaining life, Xinhua reported.

“This discovery gives us a window into how an incredibly important type of molecule is made in space, and gives us the chance to understand the impact that process may have on life in the universe,” Reynolds said in a statement on Wednesday.

Typically, many molecules exist in forms that are mirror images of each other, but molecules associated with life, such as proteins, enzymes, amino acids and sugars are found to be made up of a single handedness.

Propylene oxide is a common homochiral compound used in making polyurethane plastics, and was discovered by the radio telescope in an interstellar cloud near the center of the Milky Way.

The cloud, known as Sagittarius B2, is actively forming stars, and Reynolds said scientists would follow the developments in the region to see if the Universe divulges any further secrets about the potential of life in outer space.

“Understanding how this came about is a major puzzle in biology, ” he said.