Ices with JWST

Welcome back to AITN Lite, and this week’s bulletin is about discovering ices and chemical species in interstellar clouds with the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). This is linked to last week’s full bulletin by the new observations ongoing with the JWST. It is an article from this week, with the article discussed linked here:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-64380397

Star formation occurs in the densest areas of molecular clouds, and one of the by-products of star formation is planet formation. When a planet forms, its molecular and elemental makeup are set by the species present in the molecular cloud from which it formed. Therefore, studying the formation of Earth is akin to palaeontology in that we are trying to discover what happened from what is left behind.

However, the advantage we have over “dinosaur detectives” is that we can look at the formation of other stellar and planetary systems and this is where JWST is very important. The presence of a spectrometer on the telescope allows the composition of the interstellar dust to be determined. By observing the molecular cloud Chameleon I, the ice grains within the dust can be detected by analysing the absorption features in the spectrum from the background stars. The ices detected included 13CO2, OCN, 13CO, OCS and other complex organic molecules such as acetone, ethanol, and acetaldehyde. The existence of these species allows scientists to understand where the chemistry for life came from along with understanding how interstellar chemistry proceeds.

For further reading, a free version of the research paper can be found here:

https://arxiv.org/abs/2301.09140

Curriculum topics to be considered
Organic chemistry
Star formation

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