The James Webb Telescope detects the coldest ice ever measured in a molecular cloud

An international team with Swiss participation has detected the coldest ice ever measured in a molecular cloud using the James Webb Space Telescope. This work is published in the journal Nature Astronomy.

Molecular clouds are interstellar nebulae where the creation of stars occurs. Scientists including Maria Drozdovskaya from the University of Bern measured a temperature of -263 degrees (10 degrees above absolute zero) at the center of the ‘Chameleon I’ molecular cloud, located more than 500 years away -Earth light.

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Highly accurate measurements

These pre-stellar frozen molecules are considered central to the appearance of life on Earth, notes the Bernese alma mater in a press release. Scientists have found water, carbon monoxide and dioxide, ammonia and methane, but also more complex compounds such as methanol.

These measurements are the most precise to date of this dust frozen at very low temperatures. They were carried out using infrared spectrographs from the James Webb telescope, capable of detecting the chemical fingerprint of each molecule.

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The scientists were also surprised to find that certain elements such as carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and sulfur were present in lower quantities than expected. These elements are fundamental ingredients for the formation of amino acids in the prebiotic soup.

This tends to indicate, according to the authors, that these elements do not only come from molecular clouds. Still, the presence of prebiotic molecules during star formation could be more common than thought, and not just a feature of our solar system, according to their findings.

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