Uranus Smells Like Rotten Eggs, Study Says

A computer enhancement of a NASA Voyager 2 image emphasising the high-level haze in Uranus upper atmosphere

Uranus Smells Like Rotten Eggs, Study Says

"To use NIFS to solve a longstanding mystery in our own Solar System is a powerful extension of its use". They measured more hydrogen sulphide than ammonia, and also the exact concentration of hydrogen sulphide required to produce a rotten-egg fart smell. Yes, yes it does.

Scientists confirm that Uranus' atmosphere contains hydrogen sulfide, a compound long suspected to be swirling about in the planet's clouds.

"If an unfortunate human were ever to descend through Uranus's clouds, they would be met with very unpleasant and odiferous conditions".

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But due to the lack of oxygen and deathly cold temperatures, the smell isn't the worst problem for visitors."Suffocation and exposure in the negative 200 degrees Celsius atmosphere made of mostly hydrogen, helium, and methane would take its toll long before the smell", he added.

Even after decades of observations, and a visit by the Voyager 2 spacecraft, Uranus held on to one critical secret, the composition of its clouds.

Scientists assumed that it was made up of other molecules ammonia or hydrogen sulfide ice, but haven't found clear evidence of its chemical composition until now. It's interesting to note that Gemini's Near-Infrared Integral Field Spectrometer (NIFS) was created to study explosive environments around the supermassive black holes found at the center of far-away galaxies. The telescope examined the sunlight that reflected from the atmosphere that was above Uranus' clouds and noticed that there was a significant amount of hydrogen sulfide.

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Thanks to that instrument's enormous sensitivity, researchers were able to detect very faint lines on the light spectrum indicating that hydrogen sulfide had absorbed some wavelengths from the sunlight, the scientists said.

"Only a tiny amount [of hydrogen sulfide] remains above the clouds as a saturated vapor", Fletcher said, and this made detection a challenge. There is likely a more-concentrated reservoir of hydrogen sulfide beneath the cloud deck, the researchers said, but this likely lies beyond Earth-bound telescopes' detection abilities.

Leigh Fletcher, a member of the research team from the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom, adds that the differences between the cloud decks of the gas giants (Jupiter and Saturn), and the ice giants (Uranus and Neptune), were likely imprinted way back during the birth of these worlds.

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Fletcher said it shows the different conditions under which both types of planets formed. Apart from the poetic significance of knowing Uranus basically smells like farts, the discovery might actually help astronomers understand how our early solar system formed and evolved. "The superior capabilities of Gemini finally gave us that lucky break".

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