Above: An international team of scientists have used data collected by the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope to detect a molecule known as the methyl cation (CH3+) for the first time, located in the protoplanetary disc surrounding a young star. They accomplished this feat with a cross-disciplinary expert analysis, including key input from laboratory spectroscopists. The vital role of CH3+ in interstellar carbon chemistry has been predicted since the 1970s, but Webb’s unique capabilities have finally made observing it possible — in a region of space where planets capable of accommodating life could eventually form. Also, the slider bar option to compare Hubble (visible) and Webb (near-infrared) in the same region is a real treat. ESA/Webb, NASA, CSA, M. Zamani (ESA/Webb), the PDRs4All ERS Team
The most recent issue of Free Astronomy Magazine (November-December 2023) is available for your reading and downloading pleasure in English, Italian, Spanish, French, and Arabic at www.astropublishing.com (and facebook).
Another gorgeous edition and I was delighted to get a second SSA contribution myself in for 2023 (with Michele leading the article beautification effort with his selection of images). The article "Ancient and everywhere, Webb detects organic molecules" is based on only two publications of recent Webb discoveries, in both cases articles that came out in June of this year. The June 5th article in Nature on polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in the galaxy SPT0418-47 only provided about five days MAX to get something into the July-August issue. The second article, also from Nature and on the detection of methyl cation, landed on the 26th, ruining any chance for inclusion in the next issue. The September-October issue might have been an option, but it was booked solid by the time the final edition of my article was ready for translation.
And the article could have gone on and on with other relevant articles discussing organic molecules detected by Webb during June and early July.
The organization background of scheduling and publishing is not without its complexities – the goal is still about 50 pages per issue, for which precious few issues have had a singular focus (I've only been an active participant for one). Add to that the need to translate each article roughly four times (my English article to French, Spanish, Italian, and Arabic), which itself is a feat of coordination by our fearless leader. With ten pages and pictures to sharpen the mind, this forces a tug-of-war of depth vs. breadth (especially if you're a scientist who really enjoys all this stuff and would rather bore someone to tears for pages and pages on the fine details).
Additionally, the cadence of the (bimonthly) magazine means that, in terms of one writer's publication proximity to the original article, quite a bit of liquid water will have been shot out of an Enceladus geyser by the time your take on the new science is available for download and reading. Personally, I take that as a challenge to find something else to say that hasn't been a focus of any of the rapid-response articles on the subject. This article featured a little bit of an expansion on our amazing ability to do vibrational spectroscopy over 12-ish billion years and a little bit more about how highly reactive chemical species combine with time and a reactivity driver (UV radiation) to enable the synthesis of increasingly large molecules – admittedly in an exobiological vein that has been a staple topic in the magazine for years now.
And we will endeavor to show Hubble, which has produced data that will remain a centerpiece in the peer review process long after Webb shuts off completely, some love in future issues.
Browser-readable version (and PDF download): www.astropublishing.com/6FAM2023/