Comets have long fascinated us humans. So much so, we have even landed a spacecraft on one in a bid to study more about them. We’re sure you recall the famous “Rosetta Mission” to Comet 67P, in which the Philae Lander landed on a comet.
Today though, we we have reports about an interesting discovery by NASA that pertains to the comet “Lovejoy.” According to The Latino Post, Comet Lovejoy (C/2014 Q2) has been found to be discharging huge amounts of ethyl alcohol and sugar into space as it orbits the sun! Now, ethyl alcohol is nothing but the chemical name for alcohol you can buy from stores here on earth. According to Nicolas Biver of the Paris Observatory, who has researched Comet Lovejoy, it is discharging the equivalent of 500 bottles of wine every second when it is the most active. He has mentioned the same in a research paper that was published earlier this week in Science Advances.
“We found that Comet Lovejoy was releasing as much alcohol as in at least 500 bottles of wine every second during its peak activity.”
While comets are known to harbor organic molecules – with some scientists even believing that comets could have seeded the first life forms on a nascent, lifeless Earth, this is the first time that any form of alcohol or “liquor” has been detected on them. According to Biver, apart from ethyl alcohol, they have also managed to detect 21 different organic molecules from Comet Lovejoy.
Meanwhile, one of the co-authors of the paper, Stefanie Milam adds that the discovery of these organic molecules on Comet Lovejoy only enhances the belief that comets are home to very complex chemistry. Stefanie works at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
“The result definitely promotes the idea the comets carry very complex chemistry.”
She estimates that the first seeds of life on Earth could have come from a comet like Lovejoy during the Late Heavy bombardment period that took place nearly 3.8 billion years ago.
As already explained earlier, this is not the first time that we have detected organic materials on a comet. Not long ago, the European Space Agency had managed to find evidence of organic materials on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. According to reports, over 16 organic compounds were positively identified by researchers on that comet. The presence of organic compounds on Comet Lovejoy for the same reason only enhances the belief that we’re all possibly descendents of an alien race that ended up on Earth just because of a comet.
Meanwhile, Stefanie Milam has clarified the kind of organic molecules that have been recently discovered on comets:
“We’re finding molecules with multiple carbon atoms. So now you can see where sugars start forming, as well as more complex organics such as amino acids — the building blocks of proteins — or nucleobases, the building blocks of DNA. These can start forming much easier than beginning with molecules with only two or three atoms.”
Further research is underway under the leadership of co-author Dominique Bockelée-Morvan of the Paris Observatory in order to study if these organic compounds were already present within the primordial cloud – which is largely believed to be the precursor to our solar system. Our solar system – which includes the sun, the nine planets, their moons, asteroids and comets were all formed from this giant gas cloud that compressed over billions of years to make up we call the solar system today.
As for Comet Lovejoy, it is widely regarded as one of the brightest comets that has approached us since the spotting of the Hale-Bopp comet back in 1997. It is named after its discoverer, Terry Lovejoy who discovered it in 2014. There are other comet Lovejoys, too, as the name could refer to any of five the comets discovered by Terry so far.
[Image Via NASA]