Scientists have identified the largest molecule yet found in a roiling disk of dust and gas around a baby star.

Astronomers found the signature of dimethyl ether in the cloud. This oxygen-bearing molecule can act as a building block for sugars and other biomolecules, which means we can consider it a prebiotic compound.

The discovery of the molecule could have important implications for our understanding of how life emerges in the Universe.

Nashanty Brunken of the University of the Netherlands says that from these results, we can learn more about the origin of life on our planet and thus get a better idea of the potential for life in other planetary systems.

It is exciting to see how these findings fit into the larger picture.

In space, dimethyl ether is not uncommon. It is one of the most abundant molecule detected in star-forming regions. There are two carbon atoms, six hydrogen atoms, and an oxygen atom.

It is thought that the stars form from the thick clouds of dust in the cold star-forming regions. Scientists think that carbon monoxide sticks to grains of dust and forms ice layers that form even more complex molecule.

The disk around IRS 48 was found because of an asymmetrical crescent-shaped feature in the disk where larger dust particles concentrate, likely formed as a result of another body between the feature and the star.

The dust trap is a region where dust particles can clump together into larger and larger clumps that could eventually form comets, asteroids, and even planets.

There was a paper detailing the discovery of the dust trap. The dust trap is rich in ices that contain complex molecule. Brunken and her team used the ALMA to look at what they could detect.

Ices are created when the star radiation reaches the dust trap. You can use a powerful telescope to detect the signature of the molecule.

The spectrum of light that reaches the telescope can have dark and bright features as different molecules absorb and re-emit light.

The researchers say that emission features detected by ALMA were consistent with dimethyl ether. They made a tentative detection of a simple ester with the formula CH 3 OCHO, which is a building block for organic molecules.

It is great to finally detect these larger molecule in discs. For a while, we thought it might not be possible to observe them.

What makes this even more exciting is that we now know that these larger complex molecules can be used to feed planets in the disk. This was not known before, as in most systems these molecules are hidden.

The molecule dimethyl ether is abundant in star-forming regions, and this discovery suggests that it may also be abundant in disks. It means that it is possible to trace the full path of these molecule from stellar nurseries to planets.

We are incredibly pleased that we can now follow the entire journey of these complex molecules from the clouds that form stars, to planet-forming discs, and to comets.

With more observations, we can get a better idea of the origin of prebiotic molecules in our Solar System.

The research has been published.

The artist's impression of dimethyl ether is in the disk around IRS 48. ALMA [ESO/NAOJ/NRAO]/A. Pohl, van der Marel, Brunken et al.