by Marilyn Malara
Washington (UPI) Oct 24, 2015
A new discovery from the bright comet Lovejoy advances the theory that the celestial objects assisted in the development of life on Earth.
According to an international team of researchers including scientists from NASA, Lovejoy has been found to emit ethyl alcohol, the kind found in beverages, and a type of sugar as it passes through space. In addition to the two compounds, the team determined 19 other organic molecules. A report of their observations was published this week in the journal Science Advances.
"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 lead author Nicolas Biver of the Paris Observatory in a statement.
Scientists observed Lovejoy, or comet C/2014 Q2, as it passed close to the sun earlier this year, forcing it to release water at the rate of 20 tons per second. Using a telescope in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Spain, they were also able to observe its microwave glow at its brightest.
"The result definitely promotes the idea the comets carry very complex chemistry," said NASA co-author Stefanie Milam. "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."
Milam believes comets' emissions had something to do with complicating Earth's ancient chemistry, altering it to produce more complex organic building blocks like those of proteins and DNA. Astronomers who study comets believe, because the celestial bodies are considered pristine, they hold answers to the development of the solar system.
Asteroid and Comet Mission News, Science and Technology
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