Call Me What You Like, Only Give Me Some Vodka… Then Give Me Some Space

Oh, vodka.

For a supposedly tasteless alcohol, there sure is a lot of discussion among drinkers about the best brand. It begs the question: Why would people be so adamantly brand loyal when the drink has no flavor?

Let’s ask science!

Recently, a group of scientists from the University of Cincinnati teamed up with a group from Moscow State University (…naturally) to try to determine if there was a chemical difference among various brands of vodka. Vodka itself is, by long-standing tradition, a solution of 40% ethyl alcohol and 60% water. The scientists were trying to find a chemical reason for the recent surge in sales of premium vodka brands, seeing as all vodka should be have the same faint or undetectable flavor.

Cue Dmitri Mendeleev.

Now that’s a name that should, at the very least, light up a dim bulb of recognition in your brain. Mendeleev was the creator of the first version of the periodic table. However, before his work with the periodic table, Mendeleev made a very important observation in his doctoral dissertation. He said that the 40/60 solution of ethanol and water would develop specific clusters of molecules, called hydrates.

About a century later, Linus Pauling (a Nobel Prize-winning chemist) had the idea that those hydrate clusters might consist of an ethanol molecule surrounded by a hydrogen-bonded framework of water molecules.

These two, interlocking concepts were the inspiration for our American/Russian scientific team. They analyzed the content of five popular vodka brands… and found that the concentration of ethanol hydrates differed in each.

This difference in the structurability (for once, when I say “this is totally a word,” I mean it) of vodka is possibly what causes brand loyalty. The high fraction of water clusters in vodka of a low structurability can make the beverage seem “watery.” Vodka of a higher structurability, on the other hand, tends toward a cage-like structure of water around ethanol molecules, and vodka of very high structurability has a greater fraction of ethanol clusters. Each of these variable structures probably stimulate the palate in a different way. So, when a vodka drinker expresses a preference for a particular brand’s taste, maybe what they actually prefer is that brand’s structure.

There is, however, no fucking excuse for anyone who drinks Popov or 5 o’clock.

No. Fucking. Excuse.

***

In other news, Spitzer’s at it again. This time, the telescope has discovered a new ring around Saturn. Check it:

That’s right- the new ring is enormous. The image gives you an idea of its immensity. One of Saturn’s farthest moons, Phoebe, orbits within this ring and is more than likely the source of the material (the ring is comprised of ice and dust particles). The ring itself would be next-to-impossible to detect with visible-light telescopes because the particles it’s composed of are so diffuse, but Spitzer’s infrared detectors were able to spot the glow of the band’s cool dust.

The cool thing about this discovery is that is sheds new light on an old mystery surrounding Iapetus, another of Saturn’s moons. Iapetus has this strange duality- one side of it is very bright, while the other is dark:

Yes, that’s Iapetus.

No, that’s not Iapetus- that’s the Death Star (sorry, I was just watching Star Wars– I couldn’t help myself).

Anyway, scientists have been a bit baffled as to why Iapetus displayed such a strange surface pattern. However, with the discovery of this new ring, we might have an answer. Due to the new ring (like Phoebe) spinning the opposite direction of Saturn and its other moons, material from the ring moves inward, bombarding poor Iapetus and giving it its characteristic dark side.

Looks like another gold star for Spitzer. Good job, little buddy.

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