The ingredients for life as we know it have been found in the Orion Nebula.
By finely separating the spectrum of incoming light, astronomers are able to detect the chemical fingerprints of molecules like water and methanol. The spectrograph that their work produces can be seen in the image above. The peaks represent the presence of the molecule indicated.
The new data was collected by the Herschel Telescope, launched into space last year by the European Space Agency. Herschel’s HiFi instrument uses a new technique to do more-sensitive spectroscopy. It will enable scientists to better understand the chemistry of space.
The Orion Nebula is located about 1,300 light-years away. No very active star-forming region is closer to Earth. M42, as the nebula is also known, is 24 light-years across.
Image: ESA, HEXOS, HIFI Consortium.