Booze And Sugar Found On Comet Lovejoy

Posted: Oct 24 2015, 4:48pm CDT | by , Updated: Oct 26 2015, 10:17pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News


Booze and Sugar Found on Comet Lovejoy
Credit: IRIDA Observatory

Comet Lovejoy releases a large amount of alcohol as well as simple sugar during its peak activity.

Scientists have found traces of booze and sugar on a comet called ‘Lovejoy.’

According to the latest observations, comet Lovejoy releases a large amount of alcohol as well as a certain type of sugar into space. A total of 12 organic molecules have been found in the gas emitted by the comet.

It marks the first time when ethyl alcohol, which is commonly used in alcoholic beverages and glycolaldehyde, which is a simple sugar, has been discovered in a comet.  

The finding of two complex organic molecules or the building blocks of life, also support the hypotheses that many Earth-like planets might exist in our universe.

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

Comets are icy, dark celestial objects which remain distant from the Sun.  Occasionally, when they pass close to Sun due to gravitational unbalance, their surface heats up and begins to release gas, which allows scientist to analyze their composition. 

Like other comets in our solar system, Lovejoy also passed near the Sun on January 30, 2015 and released water at the rate of 20 tons per second.  The team of researchers observed that comet was the brightest and most active at the time.

Researchers used 30-meter radio telescope at Pico Veleta, Spain to determine the types and amounts of different molecules discharging from the comet.

"The result definitely promotes the idea the comets carry very complex chemistry," said co-author Stefanie Milam of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. 

"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.”

Comets are always a center of attraction for scientists because they hold the clues to how solar system was born. Solar system formed out of a big cloud of dust and gas about 4.6 billion years ago. Gravity caused heavy material to cluster together and form a new generation of stars and planets.

The cloud contains countless dust grains. A layer of frost covers those grains. When space radiation combines with the frost layers, it starts to produce complex organic molecules. The grains incorporate to become comets and asteroids as well.

Co-author Dominique Bockelée-Morvan from Paris Observatory, says, “The next step is to see 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.”

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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