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NASA detects the coldest cosmic cloud yet

The Chamaeleon I molecular cloud, about 630 light-years away, is home to the coldest ice in the universe. Earlier this month, NASA researchers used the James Webb Space Telescope to conduct research on the cosmic cloud, with the results being somewhat icy.

Astronomer Melissa McClure presented in a study Press release announcing the results of the study. “These observations open a new window on the formation pathways of the simple and complex molecules needed to make the building blocks of life.”

The study found carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and sulfur frozen within the cloud. Not only that, but the team also detected frozen carbonyl sulfide, ammonia, and methane.

“Our identification of complex organic molecules, such as methanol and possible ethanol, also indicates that many star systems and planets that develop in this particular cloud will inherit molecules in a fairly advanced chemical state,” added Will Roscha, an astronomer at the Leiden Observatory. “This could mean that the presence of precursor molecules for prebiotics in planetary systems is a common consequence of star formation, rather than a unique feature of our solar system.”

According to McClure, this discovery would never have happened without the launch of the Webb, which has now been in service for the past six months.

“The fact that we haven’t seen all of the CHONS that we would expect may indicate that they are locked in more rocky or geyser material that we can’t measure,” McClure continued. “This could allow greater diversity in the larger composition of terrestrial planets.”

What is the Webb Space Telescope?

In short, the Webb Observatory is the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. With his new technology, scientists have been able to examine parts of the known universe that were previously unobservable.

“If you think about it, this is farther than humanity has moved before,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson previously said of JWST. “And we’re just beginning to understand what Webb can and will do. It will explore objects in the solar system and the atmospheres of exoplanets orbiting other stars, giving us clues about whether their atmospheres are similar to ours.”

“Our goals for the first images and data from Webb are to showcase the telescope’s powerful instruments and preview the next science mission,” added astronomer Klaus Pontopidan, Webb’s project scientist at STScI. “They are sure to deliver the long-awaited ‘wow’ for astronomers and the public.”

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