A Webb photograph showing parts of the part of the Orion Nebula.

Webb Detects First Crucial Molecule for Life in Deep Space

The James Webb Space Telescope has detected the first crucial molecule for life, called methyl cation, or CH3+, in deep space.


International researchers leveraged NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope to identify a novel carbon compound in space, methyl cation (CH3+). This pivotal molecule, detected in a young star system dubbed d203-506 in the Orion Nebula, approximately 1,350 light-years away, facilitates the creation of more complex carbon structures.

 Methyl Cation is a Crucial Molecule for Life

With carbon compounds forming the bedrock of all known life, scientists exploring life’s origins on Earth and the potential for life elsewhere find these compounds compelling. The Webb Telescope has greatly expanded the probing of interstellar organic chemistry, a field teeming with carbon-containing compounds.


The Webb’s Unique Capabilities

This captivating photograph, captured by Webb's NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera), unveils a segment of the Orion Nebula referred to as the Orion Bar. Image Credit: ESA/Webb, NASA, CSA, M. Zamani (ESA/Webb), and the PDRs4All ERS Team.
This captivating photograph, captured by Webb’s NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera), unveils a segment of the Orion Nebula referred to as the Orion Bar. Image Credit: ESA/Webb, NASA, CSA, M. Zamani (ESA/Webb), and the PDRs4All ERS Team.

Webb’s unmatched spatial and spectral resolution and its sensitivity paved the way for this groundbreaking discovery. The identification of several key emission lines from CH3+ affirmed this detection. Marie-Aline Martin-Drumel of the University of Paris-Saclay in France, a science team member, stressed, “This detection validates Webb’s extraordinary sensitivity and underscores CH3+’s central role in interstellar chemistry.”

UV Light’s Pivotal Role in Molecule Formation

Even though the star in d203-506 is a small red dwarf, the system is exposed to potent ultraviolet (UV) light from nearby hot, youthful, massive stars. Researchers theorize that UV radiation could, counterintuitively, initiate CH3+’s formation, subsequently enabling more complex carbon molecule formation.

Significantly, the molecules observed in d203-506 deviate from those typically found in protoplanetary disks. Notably, no signs of water were detected. Lead author Olivier Berné of the French National Centre for Scientific Research in Toulouse concluded, “This clearly shows that ultraviolet radiation can drastically alter a protoplanetary disk’s chemistry. It might be critical in the early chemical stages of life’s origins.”


PLEASE READ: Have something to add? Visit Curiosmos on Facebook. Join the discussion in our mobile Telegram group. Also, follow us on Google News. Interesting in history, mysteries, and more? Visit Ancient Library’s Telegram group and become part of an exclusive group.

Written by Ivan Petricevic

I've been writing passionately about ancient civilizations, history, alien life, and various other subjects for more than eight years. You may have seen me appear on Discovery Channel's What On Earth series, History Channel's Ancient Aliens, and Gaia's Ancient Civilizations among others.

Write for us

We’re always looking for new guest authors and we welcome individual bloggers to contribute high-quality guest posts.

Get In Touch