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Sugary comet Lovejoy spewing about 500 bottles of alcohol every second

A comet named Lovejoy, is producing alcohol, sugar and other organic compounds as it moves across the space. This is the first time astronomers have found a comet producing ethyl alcohol, which is a primary component of wine and beer.comet-lovejoy

An international team of scientists found that the comet (cataloged in Q2 of last year), was producing enormous amount of alcohol. The latest discovery adds to the growing evidence that comets have complex organic molecules, needed for survival. These comets are remnants of an exploded star or planet, and scientists are studying them to know how life on Earth developed.

“We found that comet Lovejoy was releasing as much alcohol as in at least 500 bottles of wine every second during its peak activity,” said lead author Nicolas Biver of the Paris Observatory, France.

The comet was observed with the 30-meter diameter radio telescope at Pico Veleta in Sierra Nevada Mountains of Spain. In late January, the comet was giving off 20 tons of water per second when it was closest to the sun.  The sun caused the molecules in the comet to glow at specific microwave frequencies. Data from the telescope analyzed the several frequencies at the same time, giving valuable information since the comet was observed only for a short time.

“The result definitely promotes the idea the comets carry very complex chemistry,” said co-author Stefanie Milam, from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “During the Late Heavy Bombardment about 3.8 billion years ago, when many comets and asteroids were blasting into Earth and we were getting our first oceans, life didn’t have to start with just simple molecules like water, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen. Instead, life had something that was much more sophisticated on a molecular level.”

Co-author Stefanie Milan of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland said the results definitely promotes the idea the comets carry very complex chemistry. Scientists are set to find if the organic material being found in comets came from the primordial cloud that formed the solar system or if it was created later on, “inside the protoplanetary disk that surrounded the young sun.” Scientists believe that comets were the source of water on Earth as the planet was a molten ball of molten lava during its early years. The study has been published in the journal Science Advances.

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About Anirudh Madhav

A movie buff, a bookworm, and a compulsive doodler. All posts by Anirudh

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