It may sound like a bad joke, but scientists say that it’s likely true: Uranus does, indeed, smell bad. Specifically, the atmosphere of Uranus smells somewhat like rotten eggs, due to a high concentration of hydrogen sulfide.
“If an unfortunate human were ever to descend through Uranus’ clouds, they would be met with very unpleasant and odiferous conditions,” said Patrick Irwin.
He is an Oxford University research and lead author of a new study released in the journal Nature Astronomy.
The Atmosphere of Uranus and Its Unpleasant Smell
It took a while to learn this, due to Uranus being so far away. Also, unlike Jupiter and Saturn, it was visited only once by a man-made probe (the Voyager 2 back in January 1986). Furthermore, the University of Leicester’s Leigh Fletcher says that only a small amount remains above the clouds, making it harder to detect.
This latest research was conducted using the Near-Infrared Integral Field Spectrometer (NIFS), which is on Hawaii’s Gemini North telescope. By studying the sunlight reflecting from the atmosphere of Uranus, NIFS was able to detect hydrogen sulfide. The planet’s atmosphere was also noted to contain much ammonia. Until now, scientists were wondering which compound was more abundant.
Uranus is an “ice giant,” so much of this is probably frozen. Neptune is believed to be quite similar in composition because it was also formed far out in the solar system.
Jupiter and Saturn, meanwhile, are less frozen due to being much closer to the Sun. This allows them to retain their “gas giant” nomenclature.
But if you are planning a trip to Uranus sometime in the future, don’t worry too much about the “rotten eggs” smell―it will be the least of your problems.
“Suffocation and exposure in the negative 200 degrees Celsius (minus 328 degrees Fahrenheit) atmosphere, made of mostly hydrogen, helium, and methane, would take its toll long before the smell,” Irwin reassured people.
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