With new data collected by the joint NASA/European Space Agency/Canadian Space Agency James Webb Space Telescope
, an international team of scientists has — for the first time ever — detected a carbon moleculewithin the protoplanetary disk of a star located in the Orion Nebula. The molecule, called methyl cation (CH3+), is quite unique. The molecule doesn’t react to hydrogen all that efficiently but can react with other common molecules.
This reaction allows for the creation and growth of more complex carbon-based molecules — like life.
Carbon = LIFE
CH3+’s potential importance in universal carbon chemistry has been predicted by scientists since the 1970s. However, until Webb officially began operations in 2022, telescopes before and since have all been unable to detect the molecule in the universe. Webb’s incredibly sensitive suite of infrared instruments allowed the team, led by Olivier Berné of the French National Centre for Scientific Research in Toulouse, to detect the molecule.
Located approximately 1,350 light-years away in the Orion Nebula, protoplanetary disk d203-506 was the focus of Webb’s observations and Berné et al.’s research. Webb observed the nebula with its near-infrared camera (NIRCam) and mid-infrared instrument (MIRI). While just a spec in a vast area of swirling gas, dust, rock, and other cosmic materials, the team was able to identify and analyze Webb’s d203-506 data to discover CH3+ in the disk.
Carbon compounds have long been known to form the basis for all life forms on Earth. Without carbon, life and many other vital environmental processes wouldn’t be possible. Because of their importance to life and the formation of life, scientists are constantly searching the universe for different signs and forms of carbon— a field known as interstellar organic chemistry. Scientists who search for carbon in the universe typically search for carbon-containing molecular ions, as they can react with a plethora of other elements and molecules to form more complex structures.
Carbon = LIFE.
Carbon Reduction = Reducing of Life = Death
Scientists using @NASAWebb have detected a crucial carbon compound in space for the first time. Known as methyl cation (pronounced cat-eye-on), it’s thought to aid in building more complex carbon molecules—the foundation for all known life: https://t.co/QVLCDQjCi8 pic.twitter.com/q9Hy0ZgXbt— NASA (@NASA) June 26, 2023