back to article Way out in deep space, astronomers spot precursor of carbon based life

Astronomers wielding the James Webb Space Telescope have detected methyl cations – important precursor molecules needed to create proteins and DNA and therefore fundamental to carbon-based life forms. The molecules were spotted 1,350 light years away in a protoplanetary disk known as d203-506, located in the Orion Nebula. The …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I for one

    Welcome our CH3+ overlords and ask that they be kind.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Hey, they've got meth, what's the risk ?

    2. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      Re: I for one

      Welcome our CH3+ overlords and ask that they be kind.

      You probably already know the answer to that one, which is "it depends". All life depends on cat-ions? I think the cats already know they're the overlords, but this is probably why there are great efforts to ban methane and prevent further evolutionary manipulation by their ions.

    3. Dr. G. Freeman

      Re: I for one

      Well, anyone's an improvement on our current overlords.

      1. MyffyW Silver badge

        Re: I for one

        Whilst I do dread to think how much worse things could be, the past couple of decades have taught me that things can always get worse

  2. UCAP Silver badge

    The James Web Space Telescope is certainly producing a huge scientific return for the investment that went into it; it is well on track to match and even exceed the achievements of the Hubble Space Telescope.

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      The James Webb wouldn't have been possible without the Hubble. Each were miracles for their time. Let's see if the James Webb can stay in service as long as the Hubble has managed.

      1. UCAP Silver badge

        The James Webb wouldn't have been possible without the Hubble

        I'm not so sure I would agree with that statement. The JWST operates in the near- and mid-infrared bands with a limited capability of seeing red and orange visual light (since red and orange frequencies are adjacent to infrared), while the HST primarily operates in visual bands; based on that I would argue that JWST is descended more from IRAS, ISO (which I actually worked on as a part of the ground system team) and Spitzer lines than HST.

  3. EBG

    Eh ?

    Dissociation of methane by the elimination of hydrogen would produce neutral CH3, not a cation.

    1. steelpillow Silver badge

      Re: Eh ?

      Perhaps more likely it would lose a proton H+ and become a methyl anion CH3-

      I would guess that here, CH4 is first losing a couple of electrons as CH4++ and then ejecting a proton.

    2. Dr. G. Freeman

      Re: Eh ?

      Cosmic rays, and other high energy collisions give you CH3+.

      1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

        Re: Eh ?

        And lead-free petrol… which is why some people attribute some pollution issues to it.

    3. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Eh ?

      In what universe is CH3 balanced and neutral?

      CH3 isn't even really a cation, which exists in solution / electrostatic equilibrium. CH3 is a free radical and extremely catalytic as a result.

      1. Elongated Muskrat Silver badge

        Re: Eh ?

        Well, yes and know. CH3+ is a cation, it has a positive charge; CH3. is a radical, it is neutral, but has an unpaired electron, making it very reactive, and CH3- is an anion with a negative charge because it has grabbed an electron from somewhere else. All of them can exist as species floating around in space, and all would interact differently with other molecules they come into contact with. If the article says it's talking about CH3+ then I'm going to accept that this is what the article is talking about, and not CH3..

        Chemistry in deep space is very different to terrestrial chemistry, because it takes part in a near vacuum. Even a protoplanetary disk isn't necessarily something particularly dense, like gases at atmospheric pressure, where all of these species would be very short lived, and parts of it are likely to be very rarefied indeed.

  4. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Life is an extremely unlikely mechanism for perpetuating improbable configurations of matter.

    We know that the necessary but unlikely chain of events happened once. It's observer bias that makes it appear inevitable let alone repeatable.

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Life in organic form, we understand the organisms, but we don't really know what the life bit is.

      So life could exist in a form other than organic. Or could be organic but adapted to exist in an environment that we would consider uninhabitable.

      It could exist and be all around us, but not be perceivable. We keep looking for a bit different version of ourselves. But now for something completely different must be far more likely.

      1. DJO Silver badge

        The problem with detecting "it's life Jim but not as we know it" is we have no idea what to look for so it's far simpler to look for what we know works.

        For all we know the gas giants could be teeming with life, maybe plasma life in the sun or incredibly slow life out in the outer reaches of the solar system but we don't have a clue about what metabolites we should be looking for, so we don't. Anyway at reasonable temperatures and pressures carbon is the only game in town, no other element has the effectively unlimited variation than carbon compounds can form.

  5. Datkpenguin


    Nice to see that you've finally started referring to scientists as scientists and not 'boffins'.

    1. Paul Kinsler

      Re: scientists and not 'boffins'.

      As a scientist, I never much minded the use of boffin: even though it generally seems overloaded with old fashioned and inaccurate stereotypes, I never really felt that it was being used in a negative way (especially around here), and so was (or would be) happy to let it pass.

      Others may differ of course. Some (or perhaps many) nowadays do not seem to mind "geek" or "nerd"; although to me they were initially experienced as terms of insult or abuse, and the modern (arguably positive) usage doesn't sit very easily. But such is language.

      1. NXM Silver badge

        Re: scientists and not 'boffins'.

        Obligatory XKCD on geeks and nerds

        1. Wellyboot Silver badge

          Re: scientists and not 'boffins'.

          I want to know when being a computer geek stopped being a serious impediment to making new friends at parties!

          1. Elongated Muskrat Silver badge

            Re: scientists and not 'boffins'.

            Depends what sort of party you go to; LAN parties, for example...

          2. Paul Kinsler

            Re: scientists and not 'boffins'.

            When I did my physics PhD it was a standing joke that we should just say we did a bit of modelling...


            ... but whether it happened to be modelling of laser trapping systems, optical parametric oscillators, soliton propagation, or whatever else, should remain unsaid.

            1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

              Re: scientists and not 'boffins'.

              Or you study N-body interactions, but N is generally 1

      2. TheMaskedMan Silver badge

        Re: scientists and not 'boffins'.

        *Some (or perhaps many) nowadays do not seem to mind "geek" or "nerd"; although to me they were initially experienced as terms of insult or abuse..."

        I've happily identified as a geek for decades. They were, indeed, often used in a derogatory manner (and probably still are) but I never gave a bugger about what anybody else called me. Growing up as the astronomy obsessed kid surrounded by peers with more, erm, conventionally athletic interests, I quickly learned to disregard such things.

    2. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      Re: Scientists

      You mean a further loss of British characteristics for the former site?

    3. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Scientists

      Discovering CH3 in space using a telescope is astrophysics; boffinry is turning your microwave into an interstellar transport mechanism!

      1. TDog

        Re: Scientists

        Well according to Harry Harisson it was cheese, (Star Snashers of the Galactic Rangers) but I'm not going to argue over minor details

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Scientists

      Next they'll be going after the trick cyclists...

  6. Tom 7 Silver badge

    Cat ions on the web

    is not news.

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