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NASA Scientists Find Margarita Ingredients in Space

NASA’s James Webb space telescope recently found the necessary chemical ingredients for margaritas near two protostars.

NASA margarita ingredients in space
Scientists have discovered the necessary compounds for margaritas in space. (Illustration by Vanessa Ho)

NASA’s James Webb space telescope recently found the chemical ingredients for the drinks near two protostars. 

It really always is 5 o’clock somewhere! Researchers say they have found the ingredients for a margarita in space. 

Scientists using NASA’s James Webb space telescope stumbled upon the necessary chemical compounds to make margaritas and some other interesting things near two young protostars. 

After the discovery was announced, the James Webb Mission Team said, “What do margaritas, vinegar, and ant stings have in common? They contain chemical ingredients that NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has identified surrounding two young protostars: IRAS 2A and IRAS 23385. Although planets are not yet forming around those stars, these and other molecules detected thereby Webb represent key ingredients for making potentially habitable worlds.” 

Scientists have discovered the necessary compounds for margaritas in space. Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, W. Rocha (Leiden University/NASA)
Scientists have discovered the necessary compounds for margaritas in space. Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, W. Rocha (Leiden University/NASA)

The international team of astronomers used Webb’s Mid-Infrared Instrument, or MRI, to identify several icy compounds of organic molecules, including ethanol (alcohol) and what they believe to be acetic acid (an ingredient in vinegar). This exploration continues the telescope’s previous findings of dark ice in a cold molecular cloud. 

Team leader Will Rocha of Leiden University in the Netherlands also commented on the project, saying, “This finding contributes to one of the long-standing questions in astrochemistry. What is the origin of complex organic molecules, or COMs, in space? Are they made in the gas phase or in ice? The detection of COMs in ice suggests that solid-phase chemical reactions on cold dust grains’ surfaces can build complex molecules.” 

The team also found simple compounds, such as formic acid, the acid that causes the burning sensation in an ant sting. Additionally, they found methane, formaldehyde, and, perhaps most importantly, sulfur dioxide. Research has shown that compounds containing sulfur played a crucial role in creating metabolic actions on primitive Earth. Because of this, scientists are especially interested in IRAS 2A, a low-mass protostar. 

Folic acid is what causes the stinging sensation in ant stings.
Scientists have also discovered folic acid, which causes stinging sensations in ant stings. Credit: Shutterstock/Abudzaky

NASA said, “IRAS 2A may, therefore, be similar to the early stages of our own solar system. As such, the chemicals identified around this protostar may have been in the first stages of development of our solar system and later delivered to the primitive Earth.” 

“All of these molecules can become part of comets and asteroids and eventually new planetary systems when the icy material is transported inward to the planet-forming disk as the protostellar system evolves,” said one of the coordinators of the science program, Ewine van Dischoeck, of Leiden University. “We look forward to following this astrochemical trail step-by-step with more Webb data in the coming years. 

These observations were done for the JOYS+ (James Webb Observation of Young ProtoStars) program. The journal Astronomy & Astrophysics has accepted the research for publication. The team also chose to dedicate their results to Harold Linnartz, who unexpectedly passed away in December 2023, not long after the acceptance of the paper for publication. 

Can’t get enough of space? Click here to read more about a bubble that’s one billion light-years wide in outer space.

Mary Christine is currently studying English and French at Michigan Technological University. She enjoys reading mystery novels, watching horror movies, and spending a significant amount of her paycheck on coffee.

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