James Webb Telescope. First Detection of Crucial Carbon Molecule.

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Orion Bar in the Orion Nebula.

This image taken by Webb’s NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera) shows a part of the Orion Nebula known as the Orion Bar.

While observing the Orion Bar, Webb made the first detection ever of a crucial carbon molecule called methyl cation (pronounced cat-eye-on) in space. Carbon compounds are the foundation of life as we know it, and methyl cation (CH3+) plays an important role in forming more complex carbon-based molecules.

Within this region, Webb found methyl cation inside a planet-forming disk surrounding a young star system. The disk was bombarded with UV radiation from nearby young stars. While UV radiation is typically expected to destroy complex carbon molecules, the science team believes it may actually be the source of energy necessary for methyl cation — and with it, more complex carbon molecules — to form. Ultimately, understanding how UV radiation changes the chemistry of these disks could tell us more about the origins of life.

The James Webb Space Telescope is the world's premier space science observatory. Webb is solving mysteries in our solar system, looking beyond to distant worlds around other stars, and probing the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it. Webb is an international program led by NASA with its partners, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency.

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