When you think of space, you imagine darkness, and freezing temperatures, but not greasiness. Astronomers knew there is some grease in the Milky Way, but a new study – conducted by a team of astronomers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW, Australia) and Ege University (Turkey), shows there’s a lot more grease out there.
The space grease is an oily type of hydrogen-bound carbon, known as aliphatic carbon, which blazing stars leak into space, and it might be a key ingredient that helps new stars and planets form.
In a paper published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, the scientists say there could be five times more space grease in the Milky Way than previously estimated.
Space Grease is Abundant, Dirty and Toxic
The author of the study, Tim Schmidt, who is a professor of chemistry at UNSW explains that:
“This space grease is not the kind of thing you’d want to spread on a slice of toast. It’s dirty, likely toxic and only forms in the environment of interstellar space — and our laboratory.”
The team created a space-grease proxy in their lab and compared its composition with the data from observations of the Milky Way. They found out that in our galaxy, there could be 11 billion trillion trillion tons of greasy carbon molecules – it’s a number that starts with 11 and is followed by 33 zeroes.
Schmidt thinks that the solar wind keeps the grease from filling our solar system.
Knowing more about space grease could help scientists learn more about our galaxy. Carbon is believed to be a building block of life. Finding how many forms carbon takes in the space can give scientists an idea on the likelihood of other solar systems’ ability to harbor life (if not they already have formed life).
Schmidt is very optimistic about the results of the study, concluding that: “it’s intriguing that organic material of this kind — material that gets incorporated into planetary systems — is so abundant.”
Andre Blair s is the lead editor for Advocator.ca. He holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Toronto, and a Master of Science in Public Health (M.S.P.H.) from the School of Public Health, Department of Health Administration, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Andre specializes in environmental health, but writes on a variety of issues.