Webb telescope helps find ‘building blocks of life’ in dark, cold molecular clouds in space
An international team of astronomers has announced the discovery of various ices in the darkest and coldest regions of the molecular cloud measured to date. According to the European Space Agency (ESA), this will allow astronomers to study ordinary icy molecules that could potentially comprise future planets. In addition, it may open a window into the origins of more complex molecules that are seen as the first steps in building up the building blocks of life.
Ice is an important component of habitable planets because they are carriers of many different light elements, including carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and sulfur. These are important elements in planetary atmospheres as well as molecules such as sugars, alcohols and simple amino acids.
In our solar system, these elements are believed to have come to Earth from the impact of icy comets and asteroids. Furthermore, scientists believe that such ice probably existed in the dark cloud of cold dust and gas that would eventually collapse to form the Solar System.
The icy dust particles in these dark and cold molecular clouds provide a unique setting for atoms and molecules to coalesce. This can trigger chemical reactions that can create ordinary substances like water. According to the ESA, detailed laboratory studies have confirmed that some simple prebiotic molecules can form under such conditions.
In addition to simple ice such as water, the new probe allowed the scientists to identify frozen forms of a wide range of molecules, including carbonyl sulfites, ammonia, methane and even methanol. According to the space agency, this is the most comprehensive census ever conducted of the icy elements that could form future stars and planets.
In addition to the identified molecules, the research team also found evidence for prebiotic molecules that are more complex than methanol. They could not attribute these signals with certainty to specific molecules but the research proved for the first time that complex molecules can also form in the depths of these molecular clouds.