Cosmic cloud contains enough alcohol to keep the whole world drinking for a billion years

Interstellar gas clouds, also known as nebulae, are an accumulation of gas, plasma and dust that often contain star-forming regions. This is because the materials that make up these clouds tend to clump together and attract more and more matter until the accumulation has enough mass to form a star.

In 1995, the gas cloud G34.3 was discovered 10,000 light-years away in the constellation Aquila. It’s absolutely massive, with a diameter 1,000 times the diameter of our entire Solar System, and contains enough alcohol to supply 300,000 pints (a pint = 473 ml) of beer every day to every single person on Earth for the next billion years. 

G34.3 was found by a team of British astronomers using the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope, which sits on top of Hawaii’s Mauna Kea Volcano. According to Malcolm W. Brown at the New York Times, ethyl alcohol - the principal type of alcohol found in our alcoholic beverages - was first discovered in interstellar gas in 1975 by American astronomer Ben M. Zuckerman from the University of California, Los Angeles in the US. But the discovery of G34.3’s alcoholic content was the first time such a vast amount had been detected in a celestial body. 

At the centre of this cloud is a young star, and the team suggested that when grains of dust containing alcohol floated near it, they got so warm, the alcohol turned into gas and remained in that state within the cloud. "We think that the dust grains drift toward young stars, and as they approach, temperatures rise enough to drive the new compounds off the dust grains and into the gas phase," one of the team, Geoffrey Macdonald from the University of Kent in England told the New York Times. "That's probably why we're seeing high levels of alcohol in the region close to the star embedded in G34.3."

It’s been almost 20 years since its discovery, but G34.3 remains one of the booziest clouds we’ve ever found.