The Webb Space Telescope has found something unprecedented in the Orion Nebula

The Webb Space Telescope has found something unprecedented in the Orion Nebula

Astronomers have detected for the first time in space a carbon molecule that is believed to be an essential component of all known life.

A team of scientists found this Holy Grail compound in the Orion Nebula, a tiny nursery about 1,350 light-years away. This may seem silly far away, but it’s actually the closest major star-forming region from Earth.

Using the James Webb Space Telescope, a preeminent cosmic observatory led by NASA and the European and Canadian space agencies, researchers not only captured a vibrant new image of the celestial region — blowing the socks off the Hubble version — but found the new molecule lurking within. A young star system, known as d203-506(Opens in a new tab). This system contains a protoplanetary disk, a kind of lazy Susan of gas and dust orbiting the core.

Astronomers seek to find signs of carbon compounds in the larger universe because this chemistry is at the root of all life, at least as far as we understand it on Earth. Coincidentally, the ancient Maya culture referred to the Orion Nebula as The cosmic fire of creation(Opens in a new tab).

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The mysterious signal turned out to be a methyl cation, a molecule that until this week was relatively unknown to the average person. With this announcement, NASA has gone even further Pronunciation guide(Opens in a new tab) for the term. (For the record, it sounds like “CAT-eye-on,” not the last two syllables of “leave.” Organic chemists say the methyl cation helps form more complex carbon molecules.

Since the 1970s, scientists have speculated that this substance was the missing link between simple molecules and more complex organic molecules. But direct evidence of its existence in space has eluded them – until now. Nasa likens the role of the methyl cation to b Station(Opens in a new tab)where a molecule can stay for a while before steering in one of several different directions to interact with other molecules.

“This discovery not only validates Webb’s amazing sensitivity, but also confirms the putative centrality of[the methyl cation]in interstellar chemistry,” said Marie-Allen Martin Drummel, one of the co-authors of the new study. in the current situation(Opens in a new tab).

The molecule, which was detected around a small red dwarf star, comes from a region with high levels of ultraviolet radiation.
Credit: ESA/Webb/NASA/CSA/M. Zamani (ESA/Webb)/PDRs4ALL ERS Team

the The discovery has been published(Opens in a new tab) in the journal nature On Monday, June 26, 2023.

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NASA likens the role of a methyl cation to a train station, where a molecule can linger for a while before heading off in one of many different directions to interact with other molecules.

The molecule was found in an enormous cloud of dust and gas hosting a large number of stars under construction. At its center are four massive stars collectively known as the trapezoid(Opens in a new tab) Because they are arranged in the form of a trapezoid. The molecule, which was detected around a small red dwarf star, comes from a region with high levels of ultraviolet radiation from the trapezium.

Scientists speculate that most planet-forming disks are exposed to intense ultraviolet radiation for some time, because stars tend to form in clusters that include massive, ultraviolet-producing stars. The curious plot, however, is that UV rays tend to destroy complex organic molecules. In this case, the research team believes that radiation may be what provided the energy needed for its formation.

Despite finding this key molecule for life, the team noted that there was no other well-known element in the star system: water. This leaves more questions about ultraviolet radiation for astronomers, Olivier Bernie, lead author of the study, said in a statement.

“It may actually play an important role in the early chemical stages of life’s origins,” he said.

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