Besides being spectacular sights at night, comets serve much more significance to us, so much so that it is thought they are the source of complex organic molecules necessary for the emergence of life as we know it. Comets are cosmic snowballs of frozen gases, rock, and dust that spew their composition as they approach the sun. They are unprocessed remnants of the formation of the solar system. Thus studying them allows us to know the early days of our solar system. Comet Lovejoy was observed by scientists to be releasing large amounts of ethanol, the same kind in alcoholic beverages, into space. The team found a total of 21 different organic molecules in gas from the comet, including glycolaldehyde, a simple sugar.
Comets and the Origins of Life
Astronomers think comets preserve material from the ancient cloud of gas and dust that formed the solar system. As we know, clouds of countless dust grains are present as a solar system forms. Carbon dioxide, water, and other gases form a layer of frost on the surface of these grains. Radiation causes chemical reactions on this frost layer to produce complex organic molecules. With the icy grains becoming incorporated into comets and asteroids, some of them are thought to impact young planets and deliver the organic molecules contained within.