According to fresh observations made by a team of international scientists, Comet Lovejoy is currently releasing large quantities of alcohol and sugar into space. This is the first time scientists have observed ethyl alcohol, the alcohol type found in alcoholic beverages, on a comet. This finding serves as an evidence of the fact that comets might have served as a source of complex organic molecules required for formation of life.
Nicolas Biver, a scientist at the Paris Observatory in France, said that he and his colleagues found that the amount of alcohol Lovejoy releases per second during the peak hours was comparable to the amount found in a minimum of 500 bottles of wine. Biver is the lead author of the paper published in the journal Science Advances on October 23; Biver and his colleagues detailed the discovery in this newly published paper.
During the study, the research team spotted a total of 21 organic molecules in the gas released by the comet. Two of the most prominent ones among them were a simple sugar called glycolaldehyde and ethyl alcohol.
For those who don’t know: comets are basically frozen remains from the creation of the solar system. Scientists have always been interested in these frozen remnants primarily because these are moderately pristine structures and as a result store lots of clue about the formation of the solar system.
The majority of the comets orbit in the frigid areas far away from the sun. However, there are times when some comets come closer to the sun due to factors like gravitational disturbance. As a result of reaching areas close to the sun, those comets heat up and start releasing gases; this gives scientists the opportunity of determining the composition of those pristine structures.
Comet Lovejoy, which is formally referred to as C/2014 Q2, is regarded as one the most active and brightest comets spotted since the discovery of comet Hale-Bopp 18 years back. This year, on January 30, Lovejoy was closest to the sun. At that time, the comet was releasing 20 tons of water per second.
After discovering that the comet is currently releasing a total of 21 organic molecules, scientists have decided that they will now try to find out whether those organic materials have their source in the primordial cloud that created our solar system.