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The James Webb Space Telescope peered into a delicate molecular cloud 630 light-years away and observed ices composed of various elements.
Molecular clouds are interstellar clusters of gas and dust in which hydrogen and carbon monoxide molecules can form. Dense clumps within these clouds can collapse to form young stars called protostars.
The Webb telescope focused on the dark molecular cloud Chamaeleon I, which appears blue in a new image. The young protostar Ced 110 IRS 4 glows in orange at left. Journal Natural Astronomy On Monday, it published a study including the image.
More orange dots represent light passing through the cloud, from stars in the background. The starlight helped astronomers identify the various frozen molecules in the dark molecular cloud that formed Chamaeleon and dozens of young stars.
The Webb telescope looks at the universe through infrared light, invisible to the human eye. Infrared light can reveal previously hidden aspects of space and pierce dense clumps of gas and dust that might otherwise obscure the view.
Astronomers used it space observatory to discover the diverse range of some of the coldest ices in the darkest regions of the molecular cloud to date. During the study of the cloud, the international research team identified water ice, as well as frozen forms of ammonia, methanol, methane and carbonyl sulfides.
These ice molecules can help form stars and planets, and even the building blocks of life.
Ices can provide planets with carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and sulfur, which can lead to the formation of a habitable planet like Earth, where it is used in the planetary atmosphere, as well as amino acids, sugars and alcohols.
“Our results provide insight into the early, dark chemistry of ice formation in interstellar dust grains that will become the centimeter-sized pebbles that planets form in disks,” said Melissa McClure, lead author of the study and astronomer and co-author of the study. teacher at the Leiden Observatory in the Netherlands, in a statement. McClure is the principal investigator of the surveillance program.
“These observations open a new window into the ways in which the simple and complex molecules necessary to form the building blocks of life are formed.”
Along with simple molecules, the researchers saw evidence of more complex molecules.
“Our identification of complex organic molecules such as methanol and potentially ethanol also suggests that many stellar and planetary systems that develop in this particular cloud will inherit molecules in a fairly advanced chemical state,” said study co-author Will Rocha, an astronomer and postdoc. at the Leiden Observatory, in a statement.
“This may mean that the presence of precursors of prebiotic molecules in planetary systems is not a unique feature of our solar system, but a common consequence of star formation.”
Astronomers have used the filtering of starlight in the cloud to look for chemical fingerprints and identify elements.
“Without Webb, we simply wouldn’t be able to observe these ices,” said Klaus Pontoppidan, Webb project scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.
“The ices appear as precipitates against a continuous background of starlight. In regions so cold and dense, much of the light from the background star is blocked, and Webb’s fine sensitivity was needed to detect the starlight and therefore identify the ices in the molecular cloud.
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