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James Webb Space Telescope detects crucial carbon molecule in Orion Nebula.

Part of the Orion Nebula known as the Orion Bar

A group of global scientists recently discovered a new carbon compound in space using NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. This groundbreaking discovery of methyl cation (CH3+) in a young star system called d203-506 is the first of its kind and is significant as it assists in the formation of more complex carbon-based molecules, which scientists believe are required for the formation of life. The star system is situated approximately 1,350 light-years away in the Orion Nebula.

Scientists are interested in carbon compounds as they are the building blocks of life. The study of interstellar organic chemistry is an exciting area of research for many astronomers, as they try to understand how life came to exist on Earth and the potential for life elsewhere in the universe.

The James Webb Space Telescope’s exceptional spatial and spectral resolution, along with its sensitivity, made it an ideal tool for the search for this crucial molecule. The team’s success was due in part to the identification of a series of crucial emission lines from CH3+ which confirmed the discovery.

While the star in d203-506 is a small red dwarf, the system is bombarded by strong ultraviolet (UV) light from nearby hot, young, massive stars. Scientists believe that most planet-forming disks go through a period of such intense UV radiation, since stars tend to form in groups that often include massive, UV-producing stars.

UV radiation is typically expected to destroy complex organic molecules, so the discovery of CH3+ might seem surprising. However, the team predicts that UV radiation might actually provide the necessary source of energy for CH3+ to form in the first place. Once formed, it then promotes additional chemical reactions to build more complex carbon molecules.

The team notes that the molecules they see in d203-506 are quite different from typical protoplanetary disks. In particular, they could not detect any signs of water.

These findings are part of the PDRs4ALL Early Release Science program and have been published in the journal Nature.

Image Credits

In-Article Image Credits

Part of the Orion Nebula known as the Orion Bar via NASA with usage type - Public Domain. ESA/Webb, NASA, CSA, M. Zamani (ESA/Webb), and the PDRs4All ERS Team

Featured Image Credit

Part of the Orion Nebula known as the Orion Bar via NASA with usage type - Public Domain. ESA/Webb, NASA, CSA, M. Zamani (ESA/Webb), and the PDRs4All ERS Team

 

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