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ESO/APEX & MSX/IPAC/NASA

There are Giant Clouds of Alcohol Floating in Space

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ESO/APEX & MSX/IPAC/NASA

Ten thousand light years from earth in a constellation far, far away, there is massive cloud of alcohol. It’s space booze.

Discovered in 1995 near the constellation Aquila, the cloud is 1000 times larger than the diameter of our solar system. It contains enough ethyl alcohol to fill 400 trillion trillion pints of beer. To down that much alcohol, every person on earth would have to drink 300,000 pints each day—for one billion years.

Sadly, for those of you planning an interstellar pub crawl, the cloud is 58 quadrillion miles away. It’s also a cocktail of 32 compounds, some of them as nasty as carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide, and ammonia.

The galaxy has a second intergalactic liquor cabinet in the Sagittarius B2 Cloud (the bright, orange-red spot in the image above), which holds 10 billion billion billion liters of cosmic hooch. Most of it’s undrinkable, though. The cloud holds mostly methanol, the same alcohol in antifreeze and windshield washer fluid. Similarly, near the center of the Milky Way, a cloudy bridge of methanol surrounds a stellar nursery. The bridge of booze is 288 billion miles wide.

It wasn’t spilled after some Martian keg party.  As new stars heat up—formed as clouds of gas and dust collapse—ethyl alcohol can attach to specks of floating dust. As the dust moves toward the budding star, the alcohol heats, separates, and turns to gas. For astronomers, these alcohol clouds can be a telling clue into how our biggest stars form.

Not to mention, alcohol is an organic compound: the building blocks of life. According to Barry Turner at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, these alcohol clouds may “help us better understand how life might arise elsewhere in the cosmos.”

Now, if you’re wondering what these space spirits may taste or smell like, Sagittarius B2 has an answer. The cloud contains ethyl formate, an ester that helps give raspberries their taste—and reportedly smells like rum. It seems, then, that the center of our galaxy may taste and smell like raspberry-flavored rum.

Scientists haven’t found if it pairs well with moon cheese.

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Sylke Rohrlach, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0
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Sylke Rohrlach, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

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iStock
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