NASA’s James Webb discovers new carbon compound in space that forms the basis of all known life: Molecule was detected 1,350 light-years from Earth in the Orion Nebula
NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has detected for the first time a new carbon compound in space that is the basis of all known life.
The molecule, known as methyl cation (CH3+), was found in a young galaxy about 1,350 light-years away in the Orion Nebula, a vast cloud of dust and gas where vast numbers of new stars are being forged.
CH3+ is theorized to be particularly important because it readily reacts with many other molecules, and scientists suspect it to be a cornerstone of interstellar organic chemistry.
The discovery, led by France’s National Center for Scientific Research in Toulouse, will give astronomers more clues about how the universe came to be.
The molecule was found in a young galaxy about 1,350 light-years away in the Orion Nebula, a vast cloud of dust and gas where vast numbers of new stars are being forged.
Marie-Aline Martin-Drumel of the University of Paris-Saclay in France, a member of the science team, said in a statement: “This detection not only confirms Webb’s incredible sensitivity, but also confirms the postulated central importance of CH3+ in interstellar chemistry.’
The molecule was detected in a young galaxy with a protoplanetary disk known as d203-506.
A protoplanetary disk is a rotating circumstellar disk of dense gas around a young, newly formed star.
Although the star in d203-506 is a small red dwarf, the system is bombarded by intense ultraviolet (UV) light from nearby hot, young, massive stars.
Scientists believe that most planet-forming discs experience intense UV radiation, as stars tend to form in groups that often contain massive, UV-producing stars.
And most complex organic molecules are destroyed by UV radiation, which scientists said is a surprise to detect CH3+.
But in this case, the radiation could energize the molecule, allowing it to form in the first place.
Research said: ‘This detection not only confirms Webb’s incredible sensitivity, but also confirms the postulated central importance of CH3+ in interstellar chemistry’
Broadly speaking, the team notes that the molecules they saw in d203-506 are quite different from typical protoplanetary disks. In particular, they could not detect any signs of water.
Lead author Olivier Berné of the French National Center for Scientific Research in Toulouse said: ‘This clearly shows that ultraviolet radiation can completely change the chemistry of a protoplanetary disk.
“It could even play a crucial role in the early chemical stages of life emergence.”
Experts believe JWST – the most powerful device ever launched into space – will assist the lead in discovering a exoplanet hospitable to life in the next 25 years.
Astrophysicist Sasha Quanz, of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, believes aliens will be confirmed in two and a half decades, but JWST won’t – its successors will.
These statements echo a recent study from the University of California, which states that aliens will make contact with humans by 2029, but not using telescopes.
The JWST has already detected carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide in the atmospheres of two extrasolar exoplanets – the very first observations of this kind.
This is because JWST can analyze molecules in the atmospheres of distant worlds and identify those that are essential for life.
Building on the technology and success of JWST, NASA is developing a multibillion-dollar successor that should search for life on Earth-sized planets as early as the early 2040s.
The Habitable Worlds Observatory (HabEx) will specifically examine the skies of Earth-like “exoplanets” for signs of life.