In this article, you will get all information regarding NASA’s Webb may have discovered the ingredients for life in a cold, dark cloud – Digital Tech Blog
Several hundred light-years from Earth (which is extremely close, cosmically speaking) lies a mysterious, nebulous space called the Chamaeleon I Molecular Cloud. In an already cold and dark universe, this nebulous stellar nursery is considered one of the coldest and dark regions known to date. And often in the darkest corners of space we find the brightest embers of the evolution and history of our universe.
In the journal Nature on Monday, scientists working with the James Webb Space Telescope announced that pointing that machine at Chamaeleon I has revealed a stunning menagerie of ice molecules hidden in the cloud. But these aren’t just plain old molecules. They are the kind of interstellar building blocks that will one day coalesce into the next generation of stars, planets — and potentially even give rise to life as we know it.
Sure enough, in addition to structural ice particles such as frozen carbon dioxide, ammonia and water, JWST was also able to detect evidence of what are known as “prebiotic molecules” in the cloud, according to a news release about the find. It simply refers to specific chemicals known to create the right conditions for the progenitors of life.
“Our identification of complex organic molecules, such as methanol and potentially ethanol, also suggests that the many star and planetary systems developing in this particular cloud will inherit molecules in a fairly advanced chemical state,” Will Rocha, an astronomer at the Leiden Observatory who contributed to the discovery, it said in a statement. “This could mean that the presence of prebiotic molecules in planetary systems is a common result of star formation, rather than a unique feature of our own Solar System.”
In other words, maybe humans, flowers, and earth microbes aren’t so special after all. Perhaps we are not alone in the universe because the ingredients that made us are extraordinary Common byproducts of baby stars growing up in big, bad suns.
Well, to be clear, this doesn’t mean we’ve found proof of extraterrestrial life or anything drastic like that. I mean, we don’t know exactly what will happen to these cloud-borne molecules over time when mini-solar system counterparts actually start to form.
However, it does open up some (very preliminary) avenues in the hunt. “These observations open a new window into the formation pathways of the simple and complex molecules that are needed to make the building blocks of life,” Melissa McClure, an astronomer at Leiden Observatory and lead author of the report, said in a statement.
Chameleon cloud tracking
In short, JWST works by using its gold-plated mirrors and high-tech instruments to detect specific wavelengths of light that fall in the infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum.
Infrared light is super different from the normal light we’re used to seeing with the naked eye. Unlike the latter, known as visible light, infrared wavelengths are essentially invisible about us. Yet much light emitted from various regions of the universe—especially from the interior of star-forming clouds—arrives to our point of view on Earth as invisible infrared light.
That’s why JWST is such a big deal.
This machine is literally built to decode all that infrared light from deep space and turn it into something understandable by our minds and technology — elucidating a wealth of cosmic secrets otherwise hidden from our view.
And you guessed it, while JWST was observing Chamaeleon I, it picked up a bunch of infrared wavelengths associated with ice molecules hidden in the haze and turned them into information digestible by the team of scientists operating the scope.
Basically, the light emitted by a star in the cloud background touched everything in its path on the way to JWST’s lenses located millions of miles from our planet. Specifically, as the wavelengths travel through the cloud itself, they come into contact with all those ice molecules floating around inside.
Thus, some of the starlight was absorbed by these ice molecules, leaving a kind of fingerprint behind. Such fingerprints are called absorption lines—and once analyzed, they can help infer whatever created them. In this case, the fingerprints led scientists to learn, of course, about ice molecules.
“We simply wouldn’t be able to observe these ices without Webb,” Klaus Pontoppidan, a Webb project scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute who participated in the study, said in a statement. “In regions that are so cold and dense, much of the light from the background star is blocked, and Webb’s extraordinary sensitivity was needed to detect the starlight and therefore identify the ices in the molecular cloud.”
Going forward, the team intends to see how these ices and prebiotic components evolve over time in Chamaeleon I as planet-forming disks begin to emerge in the region. As McClure explained, “this will tell us which mixture of ices—and therefore which elements—may eventually be delivered to the surfaces of terrestrial exoplanets or incorporated into the atmospheres of giant gas or ice planets.”
NASA’s Webb may have discovered the ingredients for life in a cold, dark cloud – Digital Tech Blog
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