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Behold! The comet spewing booze in space


A comet has been discovered to be spewing vast amounts of alcohol as it travels through space. Comet Lovejoy – seriously, that’s its name – was spotted by astronomers from the Paris Observatory to be spewing out ethyl alcohol, the same kind found in alcoholic beverages. At its most active, it was spouting 500 bottles of wine a second, according to researchers. Sounds like a heavy night.

But this isn’t just an unusual story. It could help us discern how life itself was created, and possibly confirm that – as in most cases of life being created – alcohol was involved.

Scientists observed the comet at the part of its orbit closest to the sun, when it heated up and released all sorts of gases. The molecules glow at different frequencies depending on their chemical composition, which is how the scientists spotted all the booze leaking out. In all, they categorised 21 different organic molecules around the comet, including a sugar called glycolaldehyde.

So why is this exciting? (Apart from the huge amounts of alcohol now swilling around in space.) Comets possibly contain the same material from the ancient dust and gas cloud that created the sun and entire solar system. So spotting molecules like this in a comet supports the idea that life was started by comets crash-landing on earth.

The next challenge is to confirm when these comets started carrying organic molecules – i.e. was the booze part of the primordial cloud that helped make the solar system, or was it created later on? Scientists, over to you.

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