The James Webb Space Telescope discovered a carbon-based molecule in the gas region of the Orion Nebula. It may be the “building block of interstellar carbon chemistry.” This is reported by Gizmodo with a link to the European Space Agency.
This molecule has never been detected in space until now. It was found in a system called d203-506, at a distance of about 1,350 light years from Earth. The system is surrounded by gas and dust, and at its center is a small red dwarf star – about one-tenth the mass of the Sun. An earlier version of the team’s study describing the discovery was published in the journal Nature.
The molecule is a methyl cation (CH3+). And although it does not react very efficiently with hydrogen, it often reacts with other molecules. An ion is an atom or molecule with a net electrical charge; a cation is a positively charged ion (hence the + in the name CH3+). Due to its unique properties, CH3+ is theoretically an important building block of interstellar carbon chemistry.
“This detection of CH3+ not only validates the incredible sensitivity of James Webb but also confirms the postulated central importance of CH3+ in interstellar chemistry,” said Marie-Aline Martin-Drumel, a spectroscopist at Paris-Saclay University and co-author of the research, in the ESA release.
The largest image of the area was taken using the James Webb Near Infrared Camera, or NIRCam. The smaller area was imaged by its Mid-Infrared Instrument, or MIRI. The system itself is shown in a combined image taken by both instruments.
The James Webb image of the star-protoplanetary disk system demonstrates the telescope’s power. It shoots in the infrared and near-infrared, allowing the telescope to penetrate gas and dust that can obscure many cosmic phenomena from the view of visible-light telescopes such as the Hubble Space Telescope.