Webb Finds Deep Space Alcohol and Chemicals in Newly Forming Planetary 

This image was taken by Webb’s Mid-InfraRed Instrument (MIRI) of a region parallel to the massive protostar known as IRAS23385.  IRAS 2A and IRAS23385 (not visible in this image) were targets for a recent research effort by an international team of astronomers that used Webb to discover that the key ingredients for making potentially habitable worlds are present in early-stage protostars, where planets have not yet formed. With MIRI’s unprecedented spectral resolution and sensitivity, the JOYS+ (James Webb Observations of Young ProtoStars) programme individually identified organic molecules that have been confirmed to be present in interstellar ices. This includes the robust detection of acetaldehyde, ethanol, methyl formate, and likely acetic acid, in the solid phase. [Image description: A region of a molecular cloud. The cloud is dense and bright close to the top of the image, like rolling clouds, and grows darker and more wispy towards the bottom and in the top corner. One bright star, and several dimmer stars, are visible as light spots among the clouds. The image is a single exposure which has been assigned an orange colour for visibility.]

Since its launch in 2021, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has made some amazing discoveries. Recent observations have found a number of key ingredients required for life in young proto-stars where planetary formation is imminent. Chemicals like methane, acetic acid and ethanol have been detected in interstellar ice. Previous telescopic observations have only hinted at their presence as a warm gas. Not only have they been detected but a team of scientists have synthesised some of them in a lab.

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Tales of a ‘Drunken Comet’- Astronomers Detect Alcohol Leaking From 46P/Wirtanen into Space

A close pass of Comet Wirtanen in 2018 offered researchers an unprecedented opportunity.

Comets are full of surprises. Not only do they often under- or very occasionally over- perform versus expectations, but they also offer a glimpse of the remnants of the very early solar system. In December 2018, astronomers had an unprecedented opportunity to study one of these relics of the early solar system up close as Comet 46P/Wirtanen sped by Earth just 30 times the Earth-Moon distance (7.1 million miles away) on its closest passage for this century.

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