Webb telescope makes strange discovery in deep space: alcohol

The powerful eye of the James Webb Space Telescope has discovered important chemicals surrounding two young stars.

Astronomers have focused their space observatories on the region of the universe surrounding these protostars, which orbit a million miles from Earth and are still young and have not yet formed planets. But they almost certainly will: NASA suspects that nearly every star has at least one planet.

In these planet-forming regions, the Webb telescope discovered “complex organic molecules,” including ethanol, the alcohol found in alcoholic beverages, and another ingredient found in vinegar. Crucially, these ingredients that form ice materials in the cold space may one day become part of future solar system objects, including large space rocks that can carry organic molecules and important materials to planets. (For example, most of Earth’s water may come from asteroid impacts.)

“As the protostar system evolves, when icy material is transported inward into the planet-forming disk, all of these molecules can become part of comets and asteroids, and eventually new planetary systems,” says Astronomy at Leiden University Home, “NASA said in a statement about the new research. “We look forward to gradually tracking this astrochemical trajectory using additional Webb data in the coming years.”

See also:

The Webb telescope makes an unexpected discovery in the outer reaches of the solar system

The new research has been accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

The Webb telescope carries instruments called spectrographs that can detect the composition of distant objects or places, such as the atmospheres of exoplanets. A spectrometer separates the light from these objects, similar to a prism. Different elements, or molecules, absorb different types of light, so the light Webb saw could tell which chemicals were present and which were not.

The first image below shows the different spectra picked up by Webb while scanning the distant protostar IRAS 2A. Ethanol is present in different groups of ice materials.

The James Webb Space Telescope discovered complex organic molecules surrounding the protostar IRAS 2A.

The James Webb Space Telescope discovered complex organic molecules surrounding the protostar IRAS 2A.
Image credit: NASA / ESA / CSA / L. Hustak (STScI) // Science: W. Rocha (Leiden University)

A chemically rich region of space surrounding the protostar IRAS 23385.

A chemically rich region of space surrounding the protostar IRAS 23385.
Image credit: NASA/ESA/CSA/W. Rocha (Leiden University)

NASA explains that in addition to alcohol, the Webb telescope also found formic acid, methane, and possibly acetic acid. Crucially, the space agency said, these are “key elements in creating a potentially habitable world.”

Mix and match speed of light

A habitable world is one that has the conditions to sustain life – although that doesn’t mean there is life there. NASA is currently searching for potentially habitable worlds, some of which may even resemble Earth covered in oceans.

The power of the Webb telescope

The Webb telescope is a scientific collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency that aims to peer into the deepest reaches of the universe and reveal new insights about the early universe. But it’s also looking at interesting planets in our galaxy, as well as planets and moons in our solar system.

Here’s how Weber achieved an unparalleled feat that will likely last for decades:

– Giant mirror: Weber’s mirror captures light and is over 21 feet in diameter. That’s more than two and a half times larger than the Hubble Space Telescope’s mirror. Capturing more light allows Webb to see more distant and older objects. As mentioned above, this telescope is observing stars and galaxies that formed 13 billion years ago, a few hundred million years after the Big Bang.

“We will see the earliest stars and galaxies forming,” astronomer Jean Creighton, director of the Manfred Olson Planetarium at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, told Mashable in 2021.

– Infrared view: Unlike Hubble, which primarily observes light that we can see, Webb is primarily an infrared telescope, meaning it observes light in the infrared spectrum. This allows us to see more of the universe. Infrared light has longer wavelengths than visible light, so light waves can pass through cosmic clouds more efficiently; the light doesn’t collide with these tightly packed particles as often and is scattered. Eventually, Webb’s infrared vision could penetrate places Hubble couldn’t.

“It lifts the veil,” Creighton said.

– Gaze at distant exoplanets: As mentioned before, the Webb telescope Carry specialized equipment called a spectrometer This will revolutionize our understanding of these distant worlds. These instruments can decipher the molecules (such as water, carbon dioxide, and methane) present in the atmospheres of distant exoplanets—whether they are gas giants or smaller rocky worlds. Webb will observe exoplanets in the Milky Way. Who knows what we might find?

“We might learn something we never thought of,” Mercedes López-Morales, an exoplanet researcher and astrophysicist at Harvard University and the Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, told Mashable in 2021.

Astronomers have managed to discover interesting chemical reactions on a planet 700 light-years away, and as mentioned above, observatories have begun observing one of the most anticipated places in the universe: the rocky, Earth-sized planet of the Trappist solar system planetary system.

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