Webb makes first detection of key carbon molecule
Science & Technology
7th Jul, 2023
The CH3+ molecule has been detected in space for the first time by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).
What has been found?
- Known as methyl cation (CH3+), the molecule was detected in a young star system, with a protoplanetary disk, known as d203-506, which is located about 1,350 light-years away in the Orion Nebula.
- The findings, published in the journal Nature, showed that although the star in d203-506 is a small red dwarf, the system is bombarded by strong ultraviolet (UV) light from nearby hot, young, massive stars.
- Organic molecules are carbon based. They contain carbon atoms bonded to hydrogen atoms but can also bond to other elements, such as oxygen, nitrogen or phosphorus.
- Everything that makes us and all life on Earth is carbon based.
What is carbocation CH3+?
- The methyl cation, also known as the carbocation CH3+ is a very simple organic molecule, just one carbon atom and 3 hydrogen atoms.
- But it reacts with other molecules to form more complex ones.
- The CH3+ consists of a positively charged carbon atom (C+) with three hydrogen atoms (H) attached to it.
- It is the simplest carbocation and belongs to the alkyl cation family.
- This simple molecule has a unique property: it reacts relatively inefficiently with the most abundant element in Universe (hydrogen) but reacts readily with other molecules and therefore initiates the growth of more complex carbon-based molecules.
Why is the discovery important?
- While carbon compounds form the foundations of all known life, the new molecule is important because it aids the formation of more complex carbon-based molecules.
- The world’s premier space science observatory, Webb Telescope is an international programme led by NASA with its partners, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency.