NASA has been planning missions to asteroids in order to determine if we could mine the rich store of minerals, including iron ore and nickel. There’s talk of setting up a base on the moon to tap into deposits of water ice to create breathable air and fuel.
But I think NASA’s first destination to extract valuables has to be Comet Lovejoy. Scientists have recently concluded that the comet is spewing alcohol and sugar out into space — a combination that sounds like a killer Old Fashioned.
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.”
Ah, the wonders of the universe. Of course, building the hotels and casinos would be tricky, but with all the money those tech titans have been making lately, I’m sure they’d be willing to sponsor a pilot project. Imagine being able to walk out of your hotel and stick your cocktail glass into a nearby pool of alcohol. It gives a whole new meaning to the term “high.”
In all seriousness, this adds another piece to the puzzle of how life evolved on earth. Complex molecules didn’t have to spontaneously arise on the planet; they were delivered via comets and probably asteroids. We’re getting closer to answering what is surely one of the fundamental questions in all of science.
How did life begin? Trying to know the mind of God, as Einstein said, may be impossible, but the quest to unravel the mysteries of the universe is what makes science such a noble endeavor.