A team of experts have currently discovered that Comet C/2014 Q2, also known as Lovejoy, is discharging large amounts of alcohol as well as a type of sugar into space. This has been the first time ethyl alcohol has been found in a comet. The article was published today in the journal Science Advances.

This investigation became an important objective to achieve for scientists in January and February of this year. Comets are key elements in astronomical investigations due to the fact that they are relatively pristine and may hold clues to how the solar system was made.

This chart shows the view looking southeast during mid-January at about 8 p.m. local time. Look to the upper right of the distinctive constellation Orion to locate Comet Lovejoy. Binoculars will help. Diagram: Sky & Telescope

The Institut de Radioastronomie Millimétrique (IRAM), located on Pico Veleta in the Sierra Nevada (Spain), facilitated the study by lending investigators their IRAM 30m telescope. Thanks to the versatility of the receivers and spectrometers of this telescope, scientists were able to observe the atmosphere of comet Lovejoy during two periods – between 13–16 and 23–26 January 2015. To study the line of molecules, investigators used the latest spectroscopic data available in the JPL or CDMS database.

The analysis revealed lines of 21 molecules. Two of these were detected for the first time in a comet, ethanol and glycolaldehyde, a type of sugar. Furthermore, this comet originated from the Oort cloud and has been the only comet where depletion has been observed for such a large number of molecules.

“The result definitely promotes the idea the comets carry very complex chemistry,” said Stefanie Milam of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, a co-author on the paper.

Around 3.8 billion years ago the Earth got attacked by comets and they may have scattered around some of their molecules. Current findings of this study suggest that comets could have been a source of the complex organic molecules necessary for the emergence of life on Earth.

According to another co-author of the paper, Dominique Bockelée-Morvan from Paris Observatory, further studies have to take place in order to define where the organic material of the comet came from; whether it was from the time when the solar system was formed or if it was created later on.

Source: Science Advances