Last Saturday night I stayed out until 3:30 AM, then slept in the back of our van. Now, that may sound like a pretty good evening for some of you, but it might seem a little odd for a guy like me. There's a good reason, though - I was out at the Connecticut Star Party, a meeting of amateur astronomers out in the boonies of eastern CT. Fall is a good season for those get-togethers - there are a lot of interesting things in the sky, the weather tends to clear out as cold fronts come through (but it's still temperate, overall), and it gets dark at a reasonable hour. Conditions last weekend were about as good as they can get, actually - I won't go into what I observed, unless it turns out that there are a lot of readers to whom phrases like "Minkowski's Footprint" and "G-numbered globulars around M31" mean something.
There were good views of Jupiter, though, and that always reminds me of the lab. I didn't spend much time looking at the planet (it tends to ruin your night vision for a while!), but the colors of the cloud belts are striking: yellow, brown, orange, tan, and (of course) the Great Red Spot, which is sort of a light brick color these days. (That's about the right color there in the photo, although that's a lot higher-resolution than you can see with the naked eye, taken as it was from the Cassini spacecraft on its way to Saturn. The black dot is the shadow of one of the moons, giving anyone in Jupiter's cloud deck a total solar eclipse).
What it reminds me of are the reactions on my bench (and some of those older stored samples), which are turning the same colors. And they're doing that for the same reasons. Jupiter's a gigantic stew of organic chemicals, which are being run through all kinds of temperatures and pressures (including plenty of conditions that are too bizarre to reproduce - so far - on Earth), being irradiated by the Sun and constantly zapped by huge lightning storms. The side reactions in my lab tend to make yellow, orange, red, and brown stuff, and Jupiter is nothing but side reactions.
So what is all that stuff? It's rather hard to characterize it, naturally, but I've always assumed that they're some sort of high-molecular-weight condensation products. (There's been some work done on trying to figure out what the astronomical versions of it, called tholins, must be). There must be a fair number of double bonds and a lot of conjugation in there, to get all those chromophores which push the transmitted light down to the yellow-orange part of the spectrum. All the higher-energy wavelengths of light, the purple/blue/green stuff, are being soaked up. No organic compound in my experience has ever decomposed to anything colored blue. They start by going yellow and then head down through orange and red, towards deep brown and thence to black.
So when I purify these things, and all the colorful stuff sticks to the top of the chromatography column and makes bands of who-knows-what up there, I often glance up at the stuff I'm throwing away, and think "Jupiter". And that's probably accurate.