Party Rock: NASA Discovers Comet Emitting Large Amounts of Alcohol and Sugar

If you ask around the cosmos, you’ll quickly learn that Comet Lovejoy is the life of the intergalactic party — how else could you describe a comet that’s giving out free shots to the universe?

The comet, first discovered by NASA scientists back in 2011, is currently releasing massive amounts of alcohol into space.

“We found that comet Lovejoy was releasing as much alcohol as in at least 500 bottles of wine every second during its peak activity,”

said Nicolas Biver, an astronomer from the Paris Observatory in France. Biver is the lead author of a new paper describing the strange emission habits of Comet Lovejoy.

The paper, published Oct. 23 in the journal Science Advances, describes a comet that is alive with activity. Biver and his team discovered a total of 21 different organic molecules hanging out in the gas around Lovejoy, including ethyl alcohol and a simple sugar called glycolaldehyde. Never before have scientists discovered ethyl alcohol (the type found in alcoholic beverages) in a comet.

comet lovejoy

Comet Lovejoy photographed on Feb. 22, 2015 (Credit: Fabrice Noel

Over the years, many people have theorized that an asteroid impact could have kick-started life on Earth by “seeding” our planet with the basic building blocks for life. The recent discovery of organic molecules on Lovejoy and other comets has provided an increasing amount of support for this theory.

“The result definitely promotes the idea the comets carry very complex chemistry,” said Stefanie Milam, a co-author of the paper. Milam, who works at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, elaborated:

“During the Late Heavy Bombardment about 3.8 billion years ago, when many comets and asteroids were blasting into Earth and we were getting our first oceans, life didn’t have to start with just simple molecules like water, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen. Instead, life had something that was much more sophisticated on a molecular level. 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.”

In other words, not only is Lovejoy the coolest comet at the bar, but one of its predecessors could have been responsible for starting life on Earth. I’ll drink to that!

Read more from NASA.

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