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James Webb Space Telescope discovers coldest interstellar ice ever seen - Space.com

James Webb Space Telescope discovers coldest interstellar ice ever seen - Space.com

James Webb Space Telescope discovers coldest interstellar ice ever seen - Space.com
Jan 24, 2023 1 min, 7 secs

"We simply couldn't have observed these ices without Webb," Klaus Pontoppidan, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute and an author of a new study describing the work, said in a statement.

The region belongs to a family of what astronomers long thought to be holes in the sky: dark molecular clouds so dense with gas and dust that visible light from background stars fails to penetrate them.

Now, thanks to Webb's powerful instruments, including its deep-penetrating near-infrared camera (NIRCam), astronomers have probed into Chameleon I's dusty heart and discovered ices at their early stages of evolution — just before the cloud's core collapses to form protostars.

The observations also revealed signs of carbonyl sulfide ice, which allowed the first measurements of how much sulfur — yet another element required by Earth's life, at least — is present in the molecular clouds.

(Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and J. Olmsted (STScI))The fact that the team detected methanol suggests that the stars and planets that would eventually form in this cloud "will inherit molecules in a fairly advanced chemical state," Will Rocha, another astronomer at Leiden Observatory, said in a statement.

Spotting these pristine ices inside Chameleon I is allowing astronomers to trace the compounds' journey all the way from residing on dust grains to being embedded into cores and atmospheres of future stars and exoplanets.

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