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Carbon Molecule In Space

Carbon Molecule In Space Detected By James Webb

A group of researchers from around the world made a groundbreaking discovery of carbon molecule in Space using NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope.

Carbon Molecule in Protoplanetary Disk

For the first time ever in space, scientists discovered a novel carbon molecule known as methyl cation (CH3+). This molecule is significant because it promotes the synthesis of more complex carbon-based compounds.

It was detected in the protoplanetary disk of the young star system d203-506, located approximately 1,350 light-years away in the Orion Nebula.

Scientists have a deep fascination with carbon-based compounds, as they form the building blocks of all known life forms. They are eager to understand the origins of life on Earth and unravel the mysteries of life’s potential emergence elsewhere in the universe.

The study of interstellar organic chemistry, which Webb enables, is of great interest to astronomers.

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These Webb images show a part of the Orion Nebula known as the Orion Bar. The largest image, on the left, is from Webb’s NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera) instrument. At upper right, the telescope is focused on a smaller area using Webb’s MIRI (Mid-Infrared Instrument). At the very center of the MIRI area is a young star system with a protoplanetary disk named d203-506. The pullout at the bottom right displays a combined NIRCam and MIRI image of this young system.
Credits: ESA/Webb, NASA, CSA, M. Zamani (ESA/Webb), and the PDRs4All ERS Team

James Webb Unveiling Carbon Molecule in Young Star System

The James Webb Space Telescope’s unique capabilities made it the perfect observatory for this important chemical search. The team’s success can be attributed to Webb’s exceptional sensitivity, spatial resolution, and spectral resolution. The discovery of carbon molecule in space, CH3+ emission lines further solidified their findings.

Methyl Cation Role in Interstellar Chemistry

Marie-Aline Martin-Drumel, a member of the research team from the University of Paris-Saclay in France, stated,

“This detection not only confirms the postulated central importance of carbon molecule in space, CH3+ in interstellar chemistry but also validates the incredible sensitivity of Webb.”

Although the star in the d203-506 system is a small red dwarf, it is exposed to intense ultraviolet (UV) radiation from neighboring hot, young, massive stars. Since stars often form in groups that include UV-producing stars, scientists believe that most planet-forming disks undergo a period of high UV radiation.

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This image taken by Webb’s NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera) shows a part of the Orion Nebula known as the Orion Bar. It is a region where energetic ultraviolet light from the Trapezium Cluster — located off the upper-left corner — interacts with dense molecular clouds. The energy of the stellar radiation is slowly eroding the Orion Bar, and this has a profound effect on the molecules and chemistry in the protoplanetary disks that have formed around newborn stars here. Credits: ESA/Webb, NASA, CSA, M. Zamani (ESA/Webb), and the PDRs4All ERS Team

Intense UV and Implications for Planet Formation in d203-506

The discovery of carbon molecule in space, CH3+ is surprising because complex organic compounds are typically expected to be destroyed by UV light. However, the team hypothesizes that UV light may serve as the initial energy source for CH3+ formation. Once formed, CH3+ facilitates other chemical processes that lead to the production of more complex carbon molecules.

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This image from Webb’s MIRI (Mid-Infrared Instrument) shows a small region of the Orion Nebula. At the center of this view is a young star system with a protoplanetary disk named d203-506. An international team of astronomers detected a new carbon molecule known as methyl cation for the first time in d203-506.
Credits: ESA/Webb, NASA, CSA, M. Zamani (ESA/Webb), and the PDRs4All ERS Team

The researchers observed that the molecules in d203-506 differ significantly from those found in normal protoplanetary disks. Notably, they were unable to find any evidence of water.

Webb Telescope’s Role in Discovery of Carbon Molecule in Space

This discovery unequivocally demonstrates how the chemistry of a protoplanetary disk can be altered by UV light. According to Olivier Berné, the main author of the study from the French National Centre for Scientific Research in Toulouse,

“It could play a crucial role in the early chemical phases of the genesis of life.”

Is There Any Carbon in Space?

Carbon molecule in space exists in various forms, including diamond, graphite, and fullerene, and can be found throughout space.

Recent astronomical observations have demonstrated the widespread presence of carbonaceous compounds, both in gaseous molecules and solid materials, within our own galaxy and in galaxies far away.

Where is Carbon Found in the Universe?

According to Wikipedia, carbon is the fourth most abundant chemical element in the observable universe, by mass, following hydrogen, helium, and oxygen. It is present in significant quantities in the Sun, stars, comets, and the atmospheres of most planets.

How Common is Carbon in Space?

Carbon ranks as the fourth most abundant element in the universe in terms of mass, following hydrogen, helium, and oxygen.

Why is Carbon Important in Space?

In the absence of greenhouse gases, the heat would be released from Earth’s atmosphere and return to space. However, human activities, such as the combustion of fossil fuels and deforestation, are altering the equilibrium between the amount of carbon present in the atmosphere and the amount stored in plants and the ocean.

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