An international research team has observed a comet releasing large quantities of alcohol and sugar into space, according to a release from NASA’s Goddard Space Center.
This is the first time the same kind of alcohol that’s in alcoholic beverages has been observed in a comet, and the aptly named Comet Lovejoy is releasing a whole lot of it.
“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 of the Paris Observatory, France, the lead author of the paper detailing the researchers’ findings.
Published in Science Advances, the study indicates that the researchers found 21 kinds of organic molecules in gas released by the comet, including ethyl alcohol (yes, that’s the drinkable kind) and the simple sugar molecule, glycolaldehyde.
Scientists made these observations when Comet Lovejoy was at its closest to the sun, on January 30 of this year. One of the most active comets in nearly two decades, it released gas and vapor in quantities of twenty tons per second, according to the source. It was also one of the brightest comets observed in many years, and this allowed the researchers to get a really good reading of the comet’s microwave glow with a 30-meter diameter radio telescope in Sierra Nevada, Spain.
Each of the gases in a comet glows at a certain microwave frequency when heated by the sun, and modern equipment can read a wide range of frequencies at the same time, so despite a fairly short observation window, the research team was able to determine what was on the comet and how much there was.
And some of that was a crap-ton of alcohol.