A Cocktail Comet

Comet Lovejoy Pic courtesy: NASA

Comet Lovejoy
Pic courtesy: NASA

Amateur astronomer and comet hunter Terry Lovejoy was delighted to see green, bright fuzzball like comet in the sky during January 2014 and was officially named C/2014 Q2, although many simply call it as ‘Comet Lovejoy’. This comet has been one of the most active comets in Earth’s orbital space. Scientists often consider comets as some kind of time capsules since it might offer a look into the past. As per many theories, Earth was entirely barren billions of years ago and then comets rich in organic molecules bumped into Earth’s surface, fertilizing the planet. The organic molecules of comets are thought to have had the ingredients of life.

The new research on ‘Comet Lovejoy’ supports this theory and also that such comets possess some complex organic molecules. Lovejoy reached its closet approach to sun in January 2015, which made a team of international astronomers to observe the comet’s atmosphere from a 100 foot diameter radio telescope, situated at Pico Veleta in Spain’s Sierra Nevada Mountains. Scientists, at the end of their research, have found ethyl alcohol, sugar and 21 other organic, carbon-containing compounds. These complex organic molecules are said to be the basic building blocks of life. At present, Lovejoy is about 0.6 AU (astronomical units) from Earth (1 AU is the distance from Earth to Sun, which is about 93 million miles).


The sun’s heat is said to have drove out a great deal of material from Comet Lovejoy’s surface into space, and Nicolas Biver, one of the research scientists stated that ‘Lovejoy was releasing as much alcohol as in at least 500 bottles of wine every second during its peak activity’. Researches also suggests that the four big planets in our solar system – Jupiter, Uranus, Saturn and Neptune – migrated away from sun due to shifts in gravitational pull and so a large number of comets streaming in billions of years ago crashed onto interior planets like Mars and Earth. Scientists call this period (3.8 billion years ago) as ‘Late Heavy Bombardment’.

Now, the big question posed to scientists is whether these comets absorbed organic compounds from the primordial clouds of gas and dust, from which the solar system was formed billions of years before, or it was created inside the protoplanetary disk – (a rotating circumstellar disk of dense gas surrounding a young newly formed star). So, where did these astounding organic molecules came from?