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Lovejoy comet leaving trail of booze and sugar across the sky

The Comet Lovejoy is releasing a trail of booze and sugar as it nears the sun. The discovery of organic compounds in the comet marks an important milestone for researchers.

Comet Lovejoy
"Comet P1 McNaught02 - 23-01-07-edited" by Soerfm - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

The Lovejoy comet is blazing its way across the skies and leaving a trail of alcohol and sugar in its path. The oh-so-sweet and extra boozy comet is offering concrete proof that comets do indeed carry organic compounds.

Researchers have long believed that comets carry organic compounds. The secret to the comet’s potentially life giving capacity lies in the fact that comets carry water, which is also why they have atmospheres, and leave trails when they near the sun.

Astronomers have long suspected comets of being a source for organic compounds but this marks the first time that they’ve found evidence of ethyl alcohol being released. And we’re not talking about a few shots either, researchers believe that as much as 500 bottles of wine is being released every second.

Comets are small, often fast moving bodies that streak across our solar system. Composed at least partially of ice, every time a comet nears the sun, it heats up and releases a cloud of gas, creating their famous trails.

These trails have become a source of fascination for scientists who have been studying their composition. At least when it comes to the comet Lovejoy, it appears that booze and sugar is among the main chemicals being released, (along with roughly 20 other organic compounds).

It makes sense that sugar would be released along with the booze. Sugar compounds are needed in order to ferment into alcohol.

Scientists believe that comets could potentially be sources of the vital organic compounds needed to kick start life. Some even believe that it was comets bombarding the Planet Earth that actually led to life on Earth.

According to this theory, the earth was a hot ball of molten lava, devoid of water. Repeated bombardment by comets, which are made of water, eventually provided the earth with all of the water it needed, as well as the basic precursors to organic compounds.

Comets travel through the solar system on wide, often elliptical paths. The orbit of a comet can vary tremendously. Some comets race around the sun in a matter of years, others take millions of years. The steamy atmosphere of a comet is what distinguishes it from asteroids.

Comets that have passed by the sun so many times that they have lost most of their ice, and thus no longer produce an atmosphere or tail, are called “extinct” comets. It is thought that as many as half of all comets are extinct, and as the solar system ages, more will “die” off.

Just in case you’re wondering, the Comet Lovejoy got its name from the astronomer who discovered it Terry Lovejoy, rather than its loving and joyful chemical composition.

The research was published on October 23rd in Science Advances.