Scientists have discovered an unsettlingly complex molecule at the centre of our galaxy which could hint at the beginning of life-forming chemistry.
The chemical ('Iso-propyl cyanide') might not have a very approachable name, but the implications are profound.
Detected resting on the surface of dust particles billions of miles from Earth, it has a branched carbon structure similar to organic molecules upon which the emergence of life on our planet depended, like amino acides.
Scientists say it is more complex than any molecule found elsewhere in interstellar space. And the discovery implies it is possible amino acids could emerge alongside the birth of stars -- meaning that the essential ingredients of life could be far more common that previously thought.
The study, which appears in the journal Nature, also adds weight to theories that life is at least partially derived from chemistry which occurs in space, as well as that which takes place on planets like Earth.
Dr Arnaud Belloche from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy told the BBC that "the idea is to know whether the elements that are necessary for life to occur… can be found in other places in our galaxy".
The study explains that the complex chains were found in the gas cloud Sagittarius B2 near to the core of the Milky Way.
Within this cloud, dust grains are heated as stars are born and form complex molecules on the surface. These molecules have a specific radiation 'footprint' which can then be detected on Earth by the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (Alma) telescope.
Eventually scientists hope that amino acids themselves might be detected outside the solar system - and if they are, it will boost the case for life (or at least organic proteins) existing abundantly throughout the galaxy.
Meanwhile scientists continue to search for life in other ways, from probes around our nearest planetary neighbours to the detection of water on worlds billions of miles from us.Suggest a correction