Scientists have discovered two complex organic molecules, also known as “building block of life”, on a comet for the first time.
Comet Lovejoy, one of the most active comets in our orbital neighbourhood, is releasing ethyl alcohol and a sugar called glycolaldehyde.
“We found that Comet Lovejoy was releasing as much alcohol as in at least 500 bottles of wine every second during peak activity,” sad Nicolas Biver from the Paris Observatory.
“These complex molecules may be part of the rocky material from which planets are found.”
As comets hold some of the oldest material in our solar system, scientists can use them as time capsules, revealing clues as to how our solar system was made.
Some researchers believe that comet impacts on ancient Earth delivered a supply of organic molecules that could have assisted the origin of life. Discovery of complex organic molecules in Lovejoy and other comets gives support to this theory.
The study’s co-author Dominique Bockelee-Morvan says, “The next step is to see if the organic material being found in comets came from the primordial cloud that formed the solar system or if it was created later on.”
The research was conducted using a 30-metre long telescope at the Institut de Radioastronomie Millimetrique in Spain.