NASA’s powerful James Webb Space Telescope recently peered inside a molecular cloud located 630 light years away and found ices made of different elements. According to a press release, methane, sulfur, nitrogen and ethanol were identified in the Chameleon 1 cloud, considered one of the coldest and darkest districts known to date.
Taking to Instagram, NASA released a never-before-seen image of the icy cloud. “This molecular cloud is so cold and dark that various molecules – not just water – have actually frozen onto the grains of dust inside the cloud. With its data, Webb demonstrates for the first time that molecules more complex than methanol (CH3OH) can form in the icy depths of molecular clouds before stars are born,” the space agency wrote in the caption of the post.
Take a look below:
Molecular clouds are interstellar groupings of gas and dust where hydrogen and carbon monoxide can form. Dense clumps within these clouds can collapse to form young stars called protostars.
An international team of scientists, who studied the icy molecular cloud, identified water ice, as well as frozen forms of ammonia, methanol, methane and carbonyl sulfide inside the cloud. The researchers explained that because these elements are necessary for life, the latest data will let them see how much of each goes into forming new planets and allow them to see how habitable the world will be.
“Our results provide insights into the initial, dark chemistry stage of the formation of ice on the interstellar dust grains that will grow into the centimeter-sized pebbles from which planets form in disks,” said lead study author Melissa McClure, an astronomer and assistant professor at Leiden Observatory in the Netherlands, in a statement. McClure is the principal investigator of the observing program.
“These observations open a new window on the formation pathways for the simple and complex molecules that are needed to make the building blocks of life,” Ms McClure added, as per the release.
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Additionally, the researchers also revealed that the JWST also managed to detect evidence of what are known as “prebiotic molecules” in the cloud. That simply refers to specific chemicals known to foster the right conditions for precursors of life.
“Our identification of complex organic molecules, like methanol and potentially ethanol, also suggests that the many star and planet systems developing in this particular cloud will inherit molecules in a fairly advanced chemical state,” Will Rocha, an astronomer at Leiden Observatory who contributed to the discovery, said in a statement. “This could mean that the presence of prebiotic molecules in planetary systems is a common result of star formation, rather than a unique feature of our own Solar System.”
NASA Astronomers used starlight filtering through the cloud to search for chemical fingerprints and identify the elements.
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