Space: It’s dark, cold and, in most parts of the galaxy, probably pretty sticky.
Swirled amid the dust, soot and electromagnetic radiation that sits among the stars of the Milky Way, there is also a whole mess of toxic grease. This “space grease” — actually an oily form of hydrogen-bound carbon called aliphatic carbon — is one of several types of carbon leaked into empty space by blazing stars, and may be among the key ingredients in the formation of new stars and planets, astronomers say.
Precisely how much grease is out there lubing up the Milky Way? Scientists haven’t known for sure, but a new paper published June 13 in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society proposes an answer: enough grease to really mess up the windshield on your spaceship.
According to a team of astronomers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia and Ege Universityin Turkey, there may be five times more space grease permeating the Milky Way than previous estimates indicated. By creating a space-grease proxy in their laboratory and comparing its composition to previous observations of the galaxy, the researchers found that there may be about 11 billion trillion trillion tons (or 11 with 33 zeros after it) of greasy carbon molecules in our galaxy — the equivalent of 40 trillion trillion trillion packs of butter.
“This space grease is not the kind of thing you’d want to spread on a slice of toast,” study author Tim Schmidt, a professor of chemistry at UNSW, said in a statement. “It’s dirty, likely toxic and only forms in the environment of interstellar space — and our laboratory.” (Schmidt added that the solar wind likely keeps this grease from gumming up our own solar system.)