NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has found the building blocks of life frozen within the depths and coldest ices of a molecular cloud. Methane, sulfur, nitrogen and ethanol have been identified in the cloud, 500 light-years from Earth, suggesting that these molecules are a typical result of the formation of Stars are not a unique feature of our solar system.
According to the British newspaper “Daily Mail”, the JWST telescope sent back an unprecedented image of the icy cloud, which was found to be the coldest ice ever measured, with a temperature of about -505 degrees Fahrenheit.
Also, because these elements are essential to life, the latest data will allow scientists to see how much of each goes into creating new planets and allow them to see how habitable the world is.
This molecular cloud is so cold and dark that different molecules froze onto grains of dust within.
Telescope data prove for the first time that molecules more complex than methanol can form in the icy depths of such clouds before stars are born, according to a post on NASA’s official Webb Telescope account on Twitter.
Using Webb’s infrared capabilities, the researchers studied how icy particles within the starlight are absorbed from beyond the molecular cloud.
This process left the team with “chemical fingerprints” that can be compared with lab data to identify molecules. In this study, the team targeted ice buried in a particularly dense and cold region of the Chamaeleon I molecular cloud, which is currently forming dozens of young stars.
“We simply could not have observed this ice without Webb’s telescope,” Klaus Pontopidan, Webb’s project scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, said in a statement.
The ice appears as a dip against a continuum of background starlight. In very cold and dense regions, much of the light from the background star is blocked. Webb’s remarkable sensitivity was necessary to detect starlight and thus identify the ice in the molecular cloud.
On Earth, methane includes emissions from wetlands and oceans and from the digestive processes of termites, and ethanol comes from the fermentation of starches and sugars.
These elements are essential components of the atmospheres of habitable planets and are the basis for sugars, alcohols and simple amino acids, NASA and the European Space Agency said.
This research forms part of the Ice Age project, one of Webb’s 13 Early Science Release programs, and these observations demonstrate Webb’s observational capabilities and allow the astronomical community to learn how to get the best out of its instruments.