Science & Tech

A Life-Giving Molecule Discovered in Space

  • The James Webb Space Telescope’s (JWST) recent discovery of the CH3+ molecule, also known as methyl cation, has revealed vital insights into the building blocks of life.
  • The Orion Nebula contains this basic organic molecule, which consists of one carbon atom and three hydrogen atoms.
  • This demonstrates the possibility of the synthesis of complex organic compounds required for life.

What is CH3+?

  • The methyl cation, commonly known as the carbocation CH3+, is an organic molecular ion composed of three positively charged hydrogen atoms (H) bonded to a positively charged carbon atom (C+).
  • It is the most basic carbocation and a member of the alkyl cation family.
  • Because of its positive charge and the electron-deficient nature of the carbon atom, the methyl cation is extremely reactive.
  • Because of its reactivity, the methyl cation frequently undergoes reactions to increase its stability by accepting a pair of electrons.
  • It can build new chemical bonds by reacting with nucleophiles, which are electron-rich species.

How does it help to sustain life?

  • Carbon-Based Organic compounds: Carbon atoms are commonly found in stable organic compounds such as carbohydrates, proteins, lipids, and nucleic acids, which are required for life.
  • The discovery of the CH3+ molecule in space indicates the presence of basic building components for life beyond Earth.

The Importance of Finding CH3+ in Space Molecular Fingerprints

  • Light emitted or absorbed by atoms and molecules is analysed by scientists to find their unique spectroscopic characteristics.
  • JWST spectroscopy: The JWST studied the Orion Nebula, a swirling disc of dust and gas encircling a newborn star, and identified the specific fingerprints of CH3+ in its light.

Surprising Findings and Collaborative Research

  • Surprising Finding: At first, scientists were sceptical about the identity of the unknown fingerprint identified by the JWST.
  • Analysis and collaboration: The researchers worked with Stephan Schlemmer’s lab, which was examining the fingerprints of chemicals, specifically CH3+.
  • Scientists were able to determine that the unknown fingerprint matched the unique profile of CH3+, a critical component for life, after conducting extensive investigation.
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