Comet `Lovejoy` has been caught spewing a mixture of alcohol, sugar and 21 other organic compounds as it speeds through our galaxy.
The discovery marks the first time ethyl alcohol, the same type in alcoholic beverages, has been observed in a comet. The finding adds to the evidence that comets could have been a source of the complex organic molecules necessary for the emergence of life.
Researchers 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. The team found 21 different organic molecules in gas from the comet, including ethyl alcohol and glycolaldehyde, a simple sugar.
Comets are frozen remnants from the formation of our solar system. Scientists are interested in them because they are relatively pristine and therefore hold clues to how the solar system was made. Most orbit in frigid zones far from the sun. However, occasionally, a gravitational disturbance sends a comet closer to the sun, where it heats up and releases gases, allowing scientists to determine its composition.
Comet Lovejoy (formally cataloged as C/2014 Q2) was one of the brightest and most active comets since comet Hale-Bopp in 1997. Lovejoy passed closest to the sun on January 30, 2015, when it was releasing water at the rate of 20 tons per second.
Some researchers think that comet impacts on ancient Earth delivered a supply of organic molecules that could have assisted the origin of life. Discovery of complex organic molecules in Lovejoy and other comets gives support to this hypothesis.
The result definitely promotes the idea the comets carry very complex chemistry, said co-author Stefanie Milam. ”
The discovery appears in Science Advances.