Canberra: In a breakthrough that could help scientists solve one of the greatest mysteries in space biology, research with CSIRO’s Parkes telescope has discovered a molecule which displays key attributes associated with life - 'handedness' or 'chirality'.
'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 Australia's Parkes telescope found the 'handed' molecule propylene oxide.
Typically, like your two hands, many molecules can exist in forms that are mirror images of each other.
But molecules associated with life, such as amino acids, proteins, enzymes and sugars, are found in nature in only one form.
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.
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.
Parkes discovered its first interstellar molecule, HCHS (thioformaldehyde), in 1971, and went on to find others.
The finding is being announced at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society on Tuesday June 14 and will appear in the journal Science.
(With Agency inputs)