Comet Is Spewing Out Vast Amounts of Booze

Study suggests building blocks of life arrived on drunk comet
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 24, 2015 9:36 AM CDT
Comet Is Spewing Out Vast Amounts of Booze
Comet Lovejoy is visible near Earth's horizon in this nighttime image taken in 2011 by NASA astronaut Dan Burbank, Expedition 30 commander, on board the International Space Station.   (AP Photo/NASA, Dan Burbank)

Never mind water on Mars, they've found booze in a comet. Astronomers say they have detected ethyl alcohol among 21 kinds of organic molecules in gas from Comet Lovejoy, meaning the comet has the ingredients both to create life and to get it incredibly drunk. This is the first time ethyl alcohol—the same kind of alcohol found in alcoholic drinks—has been detected in a comet, and astronomers say that during peak activity, it was releasing as much alcohol every second as can be found in more than 500 bottles of wine, according to a NASA press release. The latest find backs up the theory that the ingredients for life on Earth—and potentially countless other planets—arrived on a comet.

A simple sugar called glycolaldehyde was also detected in the comet, according to a study published in the journal Scientific Advances. "The result definitely promotes the idea the comets carry very complex chemistry," says study co-author Stefanie Milam of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. "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." (An ancient crystal contains evidence that life may have started on our planet 300 million years earlier than thought.)

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