'Building blocks of life' discovered in freezing clouds by NASA's Webb

'Building blocks of life' discovered in freezing clouds by NASA's Webb

A multinational team of scientists has assembled a thorough inventory of the coldest, darkest ice yet observed in a molecular cloud using the James Webb Space Telescope.

The core portion of the 630 light-year-distance Chameleon I molecular cloud is shown in the photograph. Ammonia, carbonyl sulfide, and methanol—the most basic complex organic molecule—were all discovered frozen.

We are getting some amazing views of the cosmos thanks to the $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope. This time, the telescope's on-board infrared camera helped to uncover "the dark side of pre-stellar ice chemistry." The Global Web Program includes participation from NASA, the Canadian Space Agency, and the European Space Agency.

A livable planet must have ice because it includes numerous CHONS, or chemically identical elements, such as carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and sulphur. It is the most in-depth investigation of the ice elements that will create next star generations.

The wispy cloud material, seen in blue in the middle of the picture in the infrared, is illuminated by the young, outflowing protostar Ced 110 IRS 4, which can be seen in the top left corner of the image. Orange specks behind the cloud indicate the stars in the distance. Light may be used to find the ice in the cloud that absorbs the light from passing stars.

The results "give insight into the early, deep chemistry stage of ice formation on interstellar dust grains that would evolve into the centimeter-sized pebbles from which planets form in disks," according to the study's main author Melissa McClure.

These discoveries "provide a fresh window on how the simple and complex molecules that are necessary to construct the basic building blocks of life are produced," according to the researchers.

The scientists also found molecules more complicated than methanol, such as carbonyl sulfide, ammonia, methane, and methanol, in addition to the compounds already recognized. These findings show for the first time the genesis of complex molecules in the coldest parts of molecular clouds before star formation.

The complex organic molecules imply that "many star and planetary systems that have formed in this specific cloud would have received molecules in a pretty sophisticated chemical state," according to Will Rocha, a member of the research team.

This would suggest that our Solar System is not unique, but rather that the existence of precursors to prebiotic chemicals in planetary systems is a particular result of star formation.