James Webb Space-Telescope UPS Provident COMPOSITE ICE NASA James Webb Space-Telescope

James Webb Space Telescope data provides darkest view ever of interstellar ice

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An international team including Southwest Research Institute, Leiden University and NASA used observations from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) to achieve the darkest-ever view of a dense interstellar cloud.

These observations have revealed the composition of a virtual treasure chest of ice from the early universe, providing new insights into the chemical processes of one of the coldest, darkest places in the universe as well as the origins of the molecules that make up planetary atmospheres. "The JWST allowed us to study ices that exist on dust grains within the darkest regions of interstellar molecular clouds," said SwRI Research Scientist Dr Danna Qasim, co-author of the study published in Nature Astronomy. "The clouds are so dense that these ices have been mostly protected from the harsh radiation of nearby stars, so they are quite pristine.

These are the first ices to be formed and also contain biogenic elements, which are important to life," Qasim said. NASA's JWST has a 6.5-meter-wide mirror providing remarkable spatial resolution and sensitivity, optimized for infrared light.

As a result, the telescope has been able to image the densest, darkest clouds in the universe for the first time. "These observations provide new insights into the chemical processes in one of the coldest, darkest places in the universe to better understand the molecular origins of protoplanetary disks, planetary atmospheres, and other Solar System objects," Qasim said.

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