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First Methyl Alcohol Detected in Planet-Forming Disc

Jun 16, 2016 11:06 PM EDT
Spiral Galaxy
Traces of methyl or methanol was discovered in planet-forming disc TW Hydrae.
(Photo : Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Recently, the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA) located in Chile have successfully detected methyl alcohol or methanol (CH3OH) in the protoplanetary (planet-forming) disk TW Hydrae.

According to the European Southern Observatory, the "fingerprint of gaseous methyl alcohol" also known as methanol (CH3OH) was detected by ALMA. This discovery will help scientists in deciphering how organic molecules are absorbed into new and forming planets, according to a report by

The discs around the young star TW Hydrae is the closest sample to Earth with a distance of about 170 light-years away. This makes it conducive for scientists and astronomers to study. Scientists believe that the formation of this system is almost similar with how the Solar System has formed four billion years ago.

ALMA, which is responsible for the discovery, is considered as one of the most powerful observatories on Earth when it comes to mapping chemical composition and gasses of nearby discs.

"Finding methanol in a protoplanetary disc shows the unique capability of ALMA to probe the complex organic ice reservoir in discs and so, for the first time, allows us to look back in time to the origin of chemical complexity in a planet nursery around a young Sun-like star," said Catherine Walsh, lead author of the study in an statement.

It's the first time traces of methyl alcohol or methanol was observed in a protoplanetary or planet-forming disc. Methanol is one of the largest and most complex molecules detected within discs today. Its discovery will pave the way to understanding the role these molecules play in the formation of planets. 

ALMA's sharp cameras managed to detect the molecules and the ring-like pattern of methanol. It is believed that methanol was released to space in gaseous form.

"Methanol in gaseous form in the disc is an unambiguous indicator of rich organic chemical processes at an early stage of star and planet formation. This result has an impact on our understanding of how organic matter accumulates in very young planetary systems," said Ryan A. Loomis, co-author of the study, in a statement published by

With this milestone, the study suggests that the chemistry of molecules can now be scrutinized in planet-forming discs which can eventually lead to understanding the more complex processes occurring in "planetary birthplaces." The authors believe that this is crucial in man's search for habitable and life-supporting exoplanets.


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