Lovejoy - The Alcoholic Comet | Super Cool Science S#!t 1


Comets litter space with all sorts of elements and compounds

Comet lovejoy streaks through the sky.
Comet Lovejoy circa 2015. Source: NASA

Comets; icy, dusty rocks flying in solitude through the depths of space. Remnants of the formation of solar systems. Frozen zombies that thaw and come to life when provided enough sunlight...


Much like asteroids, most comets are only a few miles in diameter, but when they start to orbit closer to the sun, the ice and dust contained within starts to heat up and boil away. This creates an enormous cloud around the nucleus of the comet called a 'coma'.


Because the comet is typically moving so fast through space, this coma is stripped away, forming a 'tail' that can stretch out over millions of miles.


The comet that aspired to be a brewery...


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One comet in particular, Comet Lovejoy, was discovered to be ejecting numerous organic molecules. Among them, ethyl alcohol! The very same type of alcohol we silly humans drink to ward off normalcy...


In October of 2015, an international team of scientists observed the comet at its closest approach to the sun using spectroscopy, put very simply, a method of measuring the frequencies of light bouncing off molecules to determine their composition. The team found 21 different organic compounds in the gases being ejected, also including glycolaldehyde, a simple sugar.


The findings give credence to the theory that comets could have offered us all the necessary building blocks for life in earth's history, during a time known as the Late Heavy Bombardment.


This isn't the first time we've found alcohol in space, though. Back in 1995, scientists discovered a cloud of alcohol around 1000 times larger than our solar system! This cloud contains mostly methyl alcohol, which isn't suitable for drinking, but there is some delicious ethyl mixed in.


So the next time you have a drink, make a toast to Lovejoy, the drunkest comet we've ever seen.

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