This week, a million fraternity brothers rushed to join NASA. The reason:
scientists have discovered beer in space.

Well, not beer exactly. But they did find alcohol--ethyl alcohol, to be
precise, the active ingredient in all major alcoholic drinks (antifreeze
Jell-O shots, quite obviously, are exempted from this category). Three
British scientists, Drs. Tom Millar, Geoffrey MacDonald and Rolf Habing
discovered this interstellar Everclear floating in a gas cloud in the
 contellation of Aquila (sign of the Eagle, the mascot of
Anheuser-Busch! Hmmmmm).

Millar and his compatriots have estimated the size of this gas cloud at
approximately 1,000 times the diameter of our own solar system; there's
enough alcohol out there, they say, to make 400 trillion trillion pints of
beer. These guys are British, mind you; if you were to translate this in 
terms of American beer (which the British, with some justification, 
regard as fermented club soda), the amount of potential brewski just 
about doubles.

In human terms--remember that double-keg party you threw at the end of
your junior year in college (the second junior year)? Imagine throwing
that same party, every eight hours, for the next 30 billion years. You'd
STILL have beer left over. And boy, would YOUR bathroom be a mess! Simply
put, no one could ever drink 400 trillion trillion pints of beer, except
maybe Oakland Raiders fans.

The sheer volume of all this alcohol begs the question of how it managed
to get out there in the first place. Despite the simplifying effect it has
on the human brain, ethyl alcohol is a reasonably complex molecule: two
carbon atoms, five hydrogen atoms, and a hydroxyl radical, all cavorting
together in beery camaraderie. It's not a compound that is going to
spontaneously arise out of the cold depths of space. It can lead to
speculation: What is this cloud?

1. It's God's beer. After all, He worked for six days creating the
universe, and on the seventh day, He rested. And after you've had a hard
week at the office, don't YOU grab a beer? Since man is made in God's
image, it could be that this cloud is the remaining evidence of the first,
best Miller Time.

2. It's Purgatory ("400 trillion trillion bottles of beer on the wall, 400
trillion trillion bottles of beer! Take one down, pass it around, three
hundred ninety-nine septillion, nine hundred ninety-nine sextillion, nine
hundred ninety-nine quintillion, nine hundred ninety-nine quadrillion,
nine hundred ninety-nine trillion, nine hundred ninety-nine billion, nine
hundred ninety-nine million, nine hundred ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred
ninety-nine, bottles of beer on the wall!")

3. Proof of an undeniably highly advanced but chronically dipsomaniac
alien society. This particular theory is shaky, however.  It's reasonable
to assume that if the aliens were going to construct a nebula of alcohol,
they'd also have large clouds of Beer Nuts and pretzels nearby for snacking. 
Advanced spectral analysis has yet to locate them.

The truth of the matter, however, is far more prosaic. In the middle of
this gas cloud is a young and no doubt quite inebriated star. As the star
heats up and contracts, sucking the dust and gas of the cloud into a
smaller area, complex molecules form as a result of greater interaction
between the elements. Ethyl alcohol forms on small motes of dust in the
cloud, and then, as the motes angle in closer towards the star and heat up,
the alcohol is released from the motes in gaseous form. And there you have
it--an alcohol cloud.

Or, as Dave Bowman ("2001: A Space Odyssey") might say, "My God! It's full
of booze!"

Enough with the science lesson, you say. Just tell me how to GET there!
Sorry, Grope--you can't get there from here. The gas cloud (which, by the
way, has the utterly romantic name of "G34.3") is 10,000 light years away:
58 quadrillion miles. Even if you hijacked the shuttle and headed out with
thrusters on full, by the time you got there, the guy in Purgatory would
be done with his tune. You'd have had time to work up a powerful thirst,
but you'd also be, in a word, dead.

No, the Space Beer Cloud will have to wait for the far future, when men
can leap through the universe at warp speed. One can only imagine what
they will do when they get there:

Captain Kirk: "My....GOD! Sulu!"

Sulu: "It's a free floating cloud of alcohol, sir."

Kirk: "And we've just run out of Romulan Ale!  Could it be a trap, Bones?"

McCoy: "Damn it, Jim!  I'm a doctor, not a distiller of fine spirits!"

Kirk: "We need that booze!  But if we fly through that cloud, we'll be too
drunk to drive!"

Spock: "May I remind you, Jim, I am a Vulcan.  We are a race of designated

Kirk: "Well, allrrrrrighty, then!  Spock, drive us through! Bones and I
will be out on the hull. With our mouths... open!"

             "To boldly drink what no man has drunk before."