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Webb makes first detection of key carbon molecule

  • Published
    5th Jul, 2023
Context

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 Molecule

  • 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. 

Webb Telescope

  • 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.
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