James Webb Space Telescope spots the icy building blocks of life swirling around infant stars

Using the James Webb Space Telescope, astronomers have identified several of the icy building blocks of life in the gas and dust swirling around two infant stars, or “protostars.” The molecules spotted range from relatively simple molecules like methane to complex compounds like acetic acid and ethanol.

Complex organic molecules (COMs) in solid, icy form had previously been predicted to exist around protostars that have not yet begun birthing planets around them. This prediction, however, stemmed from Earth-based lab experiments. The theory had been tentatively confirmed in the past using space telescopes, including the James Webb Space Telescope itself. The JWST found diverse ices in the darkest, coldest regions of a molecular cloud as part of the JWST Early Release Science Ice Age program.

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