Webb Peers Into Frozen Heart of Molecular Cloud – Unveils Dark Side of Pre-Stellar Ice Chemistry
Webb has identified frozen forms of a wide range of molecules, including carbon dioxide, ammonia, and methane.
James Webb Space Telescope Unveils Dark Side of Pre-stellar Ice Chemistry
If you want to build a habitable planet, ices are a vital ingredient because they are the main source of several key elements — namely carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and sulfur (referred to here as CHONS). These elements are important ingredients in both planetary atmospheres and molecules like sugars, alcohols, and simple
In addition to the identified molecules, the team found evidence for molecules more complex than methanol, and, although they didn’t definitively attribute these signals to specific molecules, this proves for the first time that complex molecules form in the icy depths of molecular clouds before stars are born.
“Our identification of complex organic molecules, like methanol and potentially ethanol, also suggests that the many star and planetary systems developing in this particular cloud will inherit molecules in a fairly advanced chemical state,” added Will Rocha, an astronomer at Leiden Observatory who contributed to this discovery. “This could mean that the presence of precursors to prebiotic molecules in planetary systems is a common result of star formation, rather than a unique feature of our own solar system.”
By detecting the sulfur-bearing ice carbonyl sulfide, the researchers were able to estimate the amount of sulfur embedded in icy pre-stellar dust grains for the first time. While the amount measured is larger than previously observed, it is still less than the total amount expected to be present in this cloud, based on its density. This is true for the other CHONS elements as well. A key challenge for astronomers is understanding where these elements are hiding: in ices, soot-like materials, or rocks. The amount of CHONS in each type of material determines how much of these elements end up in