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.