The molecular species that make up the “building blocks of life” have been found in the deep region of ice clouds.
Utilization NASA’s James Webb Space TelescopeA team of astronomers and scientists has confirmed the presence of methane and ethanol, as well as minor compounds with nitrogen and sulfur.
On Earth, methane sources include emissions from wetlands, oceans, landfills, and livestock farming, while most ethanol comes from fermented starches and sugars.
They were discovered about 500 light-years from Earth, in a region with temperatures ranging from -270°C to -250°C that had not been observed before.
The international team spent 30 hours observing two regions in the dense and difficult-to-probe Chameleon I molecular cloud, where dozens of young stars are forming.
NASA’s powerful telescope has sent back detailed images and data, with which so-called Ice Age scientists can identify the molecules.
The image at the top of this article shows the central region of Chameleon 1, with a soft, cool cloud in blue, illuminated by the glow of a young star (seen in orange).
It is the light from this star and others in the background that is used to detect the ice in the cloud, which absorbs the starlight that passes through it.
“This is exciting for two reasons,” said Professor Martin McCostra, an astrophysicist.
“One of them is that it makes us more confident in the conditions that we recreate in our laboratories.
The second is that these molecules are the materials that make up the basic building blocks of life.
“We are increasingly certain that many of the ingredients in the organic soup from which life arose had an extraterrestrial origin and were created as a natural part of the formation process of the sun and solar system.”
Image of the new Pillars of Creation by the James Webb Space Telescope
unfavorable environments of space
The telescope was used as part of a program in which it is awarded to scientific projects to aid in their research.
It is hoped that the Ice Age team will be able to use it again to make more observations of these icy regions in space.
Professor McCostra, from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, said the telescope was key to discovering more about the “inhospitable environments” in space.
“To see the icy dust grains in space, you need to use a star as a light source to shine through and illuminate it,” he said.
“It’s the same thing we do in the lab, of course on a much larger scale.”
He added, “We confirm that what we see and recreate in our laboratories is what happens in space.
“This makes us more confident that chemistry in icy environments is the main pathway for the formation of chemical precursors to life found in the primordial chemical soup.”
The Ice Age findings are reported in the Nature Astronomy Journal.