There Is A Giant Cloud of Alcohol In Outer Space!

RealClear Staff


Yes, there is a giant cloud of alcohol in outer space. It's in the area known as W3(OH), only about 6,500 light years away.

Sadly it is methyl alcohol so it isn't suitable for drinking. Although, there is some ethyl alcohol (the drinkable kind) it's just not as common.

A lot of complex molecular chemistry goes on between the molecular clouds and dust in outer space, and all sorts of chemical compounds exist there. Alcohol is a relatively simple molecule, made of relatively abundant elements (hydrogen, carbon, oxygen), so that is why large quantities exist in space.

Due to the abundance of similar simple molecules, adding a bit of energy to the mix can lead to a stimulated emission of light, known as an astrophysical maser. The term maser stands for Microwave Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. When the same effect occurs with visible light, it is called a laser. In fact the early lasers were known as optical masers. It's the stimulated part that makes lasers and masers particularly interesting.

In order to trigger an astrophysical maser you need to have the right conditions. For one, you need a type of molecule with strong emission lines, such as methyl alcohol molecules. You also need them to be fairly concentrated, so that stimulated photons can hit other molecules to cause a cascade. An interstellar cloud of methyl alcohol will do nicely. Finally you need an energy source, such as protostars as they begin to heat up.

Those exact conditions exist in W3(OH), because the alcohol cloud surrounds a stellar nursery.

When masers were first invented in the 1950s, they were thought to be an entirely human creation. We now know that masers are a natural occurrence. CHEERS TO BEER!



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