July 22, 2024

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‘Dangling ice’ spotted in space for first time

‘Dangling ice’ spotted in space for first time

Researchers have discovered a type of ice in space that has only been seen in the lab before. The discovery could give us insight into the origins of life on Earth.

Researchers have discovered a thin form of ice in space for the first time. I found itThis ice may have played a role in forming the molecular building blocks of life.

Snow usually has a solid crystalline structure. It contains all H2The molecules are tightly packed together. But when the ice is not fully compacted, as in powdered snow, some of these molecules may have loose ends. Then only one of the two hydrogen atoms remains stuck in the crystal lattice, while the other dangles out.

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These “dangling links” reflect light at specific frequencies. Scientists have been measuring this distinctive light in the laboratory for nearly thirty years. But it’s difficult to measure such light when it comes from space, for example from the ice-covered dust grains that make up stars and planets. Earth’s atmosphere absorbs light at these frequencies.

Chameleon I am a cloud

To overcome this problem, astronomers used Jennifer Noble From Aix-Marseille University in France and colleagues, the James Webb Space Telescope. They used this to observe light emitted by dangling links in the Chamaeleon I cloud, a vast star-forming region about 500 light-years from Earth.

The researchers measured light at two frequencies that were slightly higher than those measured in the lab. One signal appeared to come from light reflected off ice with dangling bonds. The other appeared to come from ice that had bonded to other molecules, including carbon monoxide.

According to Noble, it is difficult to pinpoint the exact form of ice in the Chamaeleon I cloud. There are different types of ice that can produce the light signals, and more examples are needed to distinguish between them. “Now that we can see them in space, we can start to see how these signals differ from one environment to another,” Noble says.

Life on Earth

If we can clearly distinguish between types of ice, we can understand how icy rocks collide and clump together over time. This process is essential to planet formation, Noble said.

Astrochemist Martin Macostra From Heriot-Watt University in the UK, he helped make the first measurements of dangling bonds in the lab in the 1990s. He finds it exciting that we can now finally observe them in space.

The interactions between light and ice determine what molecules form on a developing planet, says MacQuester. Understanding these connections is crucial to learning more about the chemistry that led to life on Earth. “These little icy snowballs are essentially nanoscale chemical factories where complex organic molecules can be made,” he says.

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