Boozy comet Lovejoy houses building blocks for life
Astronomers havediscovered large quantities of alcohol and sugar, as well as the presence ofcomplex organic molecules, on the comet Lovejoy. The observations,made by the 30 meter (98 ft) radio telescope at Pico Veleta, Spain,support the theory that comets may have played an important role inthe formation of life on Earth.
The vast majority ofcomets originate either in the Kuiper belt or the Oort cloud, however gravitational disturbances can manipulatethe orbits of these enigmatic bodies, causing them to pass relativelyclose to the Sun.
This inward trip fromthe far reaches of the solar system allows us to observe a comet'scomposition from afar, as increasing activity caused by closerproximity to the Sun causes a comet's coma to become much morepronounced.
Each comet essentially serves as a time capsule, allowing us to observe materials as theywere during the formative period of our solar system. The arrival ofRosetta and Philae around 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko (67P) in August2014 has revolutionized our understanding of the celestial wanderers,allowing scientists to take detailed readings of the nature andcomposition of a comet from orbit, and on the surface, for the firsttime in our history.
Whilst we lack arobotic presence on Lovejoy, telescopic observations of the comet arefurthering our knowledge of the remarkable, eclectic and variednature of the cosmic travellers. Recent studies have revealed thefirst recorded instance of ethyl alcohol present in a comet's coma,the same type of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages back on Earth.
"We found thatcomet Lovejoy was releasing as much alcohol as in at least 500bottles of wine every second during its peak activity," stateslead author of a paper on the findings Nicolas Biver, of the ParisObservatory, France. "The team found 21 different organicmolecules in gas from the comet, including ethyl alcohol andglycolaldehyde – a simple sugar."
Astronomers were ableto detect the signature of the alcohol and sugar by targeting Lovejoywith a large radio telescope, and observing for energized particlesglowing at specific microwave frequencies.
The presence of organicmolecules on Lovejoy further strengthens the theory thatancient comet impacts during the Late Heavy Bombardment played apivotal role in the emergence of life on Earth by delivering complexorganic molecules.
DominiqueBockelée-Morvan, co-author of the paper from Paris Observatory, concludes, "The next step is to see if the organic material beingfound in comets came from the primordial cloud that formed the solarsystem or if it was created later on, inside the protoplanetary diskthat surrounded the young sun."
A paper detailing thediscovery is available in the journal Science Advances.