Today the ALMA telescope array in Chile has made an announcement that has caught the imagination of astronomers, astrobiologists, and sci-fi dreamers around the world. By analyzing the light spectrum from MWC480, a young star roughly 455 lightyears away from us, they have determined that it is surrounded by a chemical cloud that contains several complex organic compounds.

Of course organic compounds is still a long way from life, but it is a necessary precursor. This star is similar to what we believe our own sun looked like more than five billion years ago, and the Earth and all of our neighbouring planets formed out of similar chemical clouds.

The new finding shows that the protoplanetary disc contains large amounts of methyl cyanide (CH3CN), which is a complex carbon-based molecule. And it isn't a small amount - there appears to be enough methyl cyanide around MWC 480 that it would fill all of Earth’s oceans.

At present MWC480 does not appear to be orbited by any planets, but this possibility has not been excluded yet either. In either case, the protoplanetary disc will be forming planets in the future, and these planets will contain at least some of the building blocks of life.

When that result is combined with recent discoveries of organic chemicals on a nearby comet and on the planet Mars, it would appear that organic chemistry is quite common in the galaxy. And if organic molecules are present in so many diverse locations, it is not a great leap-of-faith to think that complex life must exist elsewhere in the Universe. In fact, some reputable scientist are now predicting we will find alien life within the next ten years.

So perhaps we are not so alone in the Universe...