What’s space? From the perspective of Earthlings, outer space is a vacuum, but it is not empty. Space has no breathable air, but it contains dust. No one knows how big space really is, but we know that it is big enough to shelter more than one hundred billion galaxies. Never mind about the space, but we do know a bit about our galaxy, Milky Way. Milky Way is never still, it spins relentlessly. We know that there are thousands of black holes at its center, thousands of exoplanets, and we definitely know that there are gravitational waves that can solve immeasurable mysteries. One more thing, we now know that there are roughly 11 billion trillion trillion tons of grease molecules in our milky way. That’s 33 zeros after 11. Thus, in short, space is the dark, cold, unbreathable, and somewhat sticky place.
Astronomers recently discovered that our galaxy is filled with ample amount of sticky, toxic space grease, which can hamper future space expeditions. These grease-like molecules have a scientific name: aliphatic carbon and were studied by the scientists at New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia and Ege University in Turkey. They calculated the approximate amount of space grease and published a paper in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, titled, “Aliphatic Hydrocarbon Content of Interstellar Dust”. According to the researchers, there are various types of carbon molecules that get leaked into the hollow space by mighty stars, or they are prime ingredients for the formation of new stars, planets, and other celestial objects. The scientists created a space-grease proxy in their laboratories and by comparing its composition to the observations, scientists believe Milky Way contains grease equivalent of 40 trillion trillion trillion packs of butter.
Tim Schmidt, the study author and a chemistry professor at UNSW, said in press release, “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. Schmidt and his teammates took a closer look at the space grease by creating some of it on their own. Using spectroscopy, the team studied how greasy dust can absorb some wavelengths of infrared light and how instruments can up its presence. With the help of this data, they looked back at the observations and cross-checked to find the amount of space grease in the sight of various stars.
The research helps to understand the building blocks of not only planets but also of the entire galaxy. Carbon is regarded as the essential building block of life, and by knowing the amount of it in various forms shades lights on how likely galaxy can give birth to another habitable planet. For Schmidt, it is intriguing that how the organic material that eventually converted into the planetary system is so abundant in our galaxy. Well, such space grease is not present in our solar system as it is probably forced out by the solar wind. Therefore, to find out its exact composition, we need to send spacecraft into the space, which will come back with dirty, sticky, and not to mention the toxic cover of grease on its windscreen.