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Deep freezer of molecules: "Webb" telescope analyzes distant ice cloud


Researchers have discovered a collection of special frozen molecules 600 light-years from Earth. The substances could form crucial building materials for habitable planets.

Enlarge image

Central region of the dark molecular cloud Chameleon I

Photo: M. Zamani / NASA / ESA / CSA / dpa

A research team used the James Webb space telescope to explore a molecular cloud about 600 light-years from Earth.

In addition to simple ice molecules such as water, there are also frozen forms of molecules such as carbon dioxide, ammonia and methane up to the complex organic molecule methanol, said the Max Planck Institute for extraterrestrial Physics (MPE) in Garching.

According to the institute, such frozen molecules are of crucial importance for the formation of habitable planets: They contain elements that are central components of planetary atmospheres and of substances such as sugars, alcohols and simple amino acids.

Such elements are believed to have reached earth as a result of impacts from icy comets or asteroids.

The team specifically searched for ice in a particularly cold, dense and difficult-to-study region of the Chameleon I molecular cloud, the statement said.

This is an area hundreds of light-years from Earth where dozens of young stars are forming.

A light year is the distance that light travels in a year: 9.46 trillion kilometers.

»Insights into the phase of the first, dark chemistry«

"Our results provide insight into the early, dark chemistry phase during which ice forms on interstellar dust grains," said Melissa McClure, an astronomer at the Leiden Observatory and lead author of the study, according to the release.

The interstellar dust grains eventually grew out into centimeter-sized chunks that later formed planets.

The study was published in the journal Nature Astronomy.

The James Webb telescope was built jointly by the space organizations in Europe (ESA), the USA (Nasa) and Canada (CSA) and was launched at the end of 2021 on board an Ariane launch vehicle from the European spaceport in Kourou in French Guiana.

In the summer of 2022, the first images from the telescope were published.

They show the deepest and most detailed insights into space to date.


Source: spiegel

All tech articles on 2023-01-24

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