An international team of astronomers using NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has obtained an in-depth inventory of the deepest, coldest ices measured to date in a molecular cloud. In addition to simple ices like water, the team was able to identify frozen forms of a wide range of molecules, from carbonyl sulfide, ammonia, and methane, to the simplest complex organic molecule, methanol. This is the most comprehensive census to date of the icy ingredients available to make future generations of stars and planets, before they are heated during the formation of young stars.
This image from the telescope’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) features the central region of the Chamaeleon I dark molecular cloud, which resides 630 light-years away. The cold, wispy cloud material (blue, center) is illuminated in the infrared by the glow of the young, outflowing protostar Ced 110 IRS 4 (orange, upper left). The light from numerous background stars, seen as orange dots behind the cloud, can be used to detect ices in the cloud, which absorb the starlight passing through them.
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This research forms part of the Ice Age project, one of Webb’s 13 Early Release Science programs. These observations are designed to showcase Webb’s observing capabilities and to allow the astronomical community to learn how to get the best from its instruments. The Ice Age team has already planned further observations, and hopes to trace out the journey of ices from their formation through to the assemblage of icy comets.
Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and M. Zamani (ESA)
By Dacia Massengill
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