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Researchers find alcohol in space – what does it mean?

Researchers find alcohol in space – what does it mean?

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope has made a remarkable discovery. This could help in better understanding planetary formation.

An international team of scientists has made a surprising discovery in space. With the help of NASA's powerful James Webb Space Telescope, researchers led by team leader Will Rocha of Leiden University in the Netherlands have discovered something one wouldn't necessarily expect to find in space — ethanol, i.e. alcohol.

They discovered the chemical compound near two young protostars called IRAS 2A and IRAS 23385. They used the James Webb Telescope's MIRI (mid-infrared instrument). Ethanol has been recognized as part of compounds made up of complex organic molecules.

Scientists also found molecules of acetic acid, formic acid, methane, formaldehyde and sulfur dioxide. Research suggests that sulfur-containing compounds such as sulfur dioxide played an important role in controlling metabolic reactions on ancient Earth.

Protostar could provide clues about the origin of the solar system

The protostar IRAS 2A aroused particular interest. Its stage of development could be similar to the stage of development of our solar system. The chemicals around this protostar may have been present in ancient times and later reached the primordial Earth.

“All these molecules could become part of comets and asteroids and eventually form new planetary systems,” explained Eoin van Dischhoek, also from Leiden University and coordinator of the science programme. Researchers want to follow this path further in the coming years with the help of the James Webb Space Telescope.