Scientists have discovered a giant cloud of methyl alcohol – spanning 288 billion miles – floating in space
Astronomers hope that observations of this gas cloud – taken with the UK’s MERLIN radio telescopes – could help our understanding of how the most massive stars in our galaxy are formed. However, all those hoping for a taste of the interstellar tipple will be disappointed.
Dr Harvey-Smith, principal investigator for the study, said: “Although it is exciting to discover a cloud of alcohol almost 300 billion miles across, unfortunately methanol, unlike its chemical cousin ethanol, is not suitable for human consumption!”
The team, based at Jodrell Bank Observatory, revealed that giant filaments of methanol gas that are emitting as ‘masers’ – the gas amplifies and emits beams of microwave radiation in much the same way as a laser emits beams of light.
“Our discovery is very interesting because it challenges some long-accepted views held in astronomical maser research. Until we found these filaments, we thought of masers as point-like objects or very small bright hotspots surrounded by halos of fainter emission,” said Dr Harvey-Smith.
The team studied an area called W3(OH), a region in our galaxy where stars are being formed by the gravitational collapse of a cloud of gas and dust.