Dr Ilee said: “Alma has allowed us to look for these molecules in the innermost regions of these disks, on size scales similar to our solar system, for the first time. Our analysis shows that the molecules are primarily located in these inner regions with abundances between 10 and 100 times higher than models had predicted.”
Crucially, the disc regions in which the molecules were found are also where asteroids and comets form. Many scientists believe that life was seeded on Earth through bombardment by asteroids and comets containing large organic molecules.
It suggests that the same mechanism may be at work throughout the galaxy and beyond.
“The key result of this work shows that the same ingredients needed for seeding life on our planet are also found around other stars,” said Dr Catherine Walsh, from the school of physics and astronomy at the University of Leeds.
“It is possible that the molecules that are needed to kickstart life on planets are readily available in all planet-forming environments.”
The team now wants to find out whether more complex molecules exist in the star discs.
Dr Ilee added: “If we are finding molecules like these in such large abundances, our current understanding of interstellar chemistry suggests that even more complex molecules should also be observable.”
The research was published in the Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series.