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For the first time, astronomers have detected the presence of complex organic molecules, the building blocks of life, in a protoplanetary disk surrounding a young star, indicating that the conditions that spawned our Earth and Sun are not unique in the universe.

This discovery, made with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), reveals that the protoplanetary disk surrounding the million-year-old star MWC 480 is brimming with methyl cyanide (CH3CN), a complex carbon-based molecule. Both this molecule and its simpler cousin hydrogen cyanide (HCN) were found in the cold outer reaches of the star's newly formed disk, in a region that astronomers believe is analogous to our own Kuiper Belt - the realm of icy planetesimals and comets beyond Neptune.

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