Uranus Smells Like Rotten Eggs, Study Says


Patrick Irwin from the University of Oxford said in a statement that, "If an unfortunate human were ever to descend through Uranus's clouds, they would be met with very unpleasant and odiferous conditions".

A new study published Monday in the online journal Nature Astronomy has concluded hydrogen sulfide, which makes rotting eggs smell bad, is abundant in the planet's atmosphere.

Despite previous observations by ground telescopes and the Voyager 2 spacecraft, the composition of Uranus' atmosphere had remained unclear.

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.

For a long time, scientists were puzzled by Uranus's continuum microwave adsorption spectrum - it was missing a component that atmospheric models couldn't account for. Using the Near-Infrared Integral Field Spectrometer (NIFS) instrument on the Gemini North telescope on Hawaii's Mauna Kea summit, observations were made of Uranus, alongside analyzing the data collected, notes the report.

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Chris Davis, a leading funder of the Gemini telescope at the United State's National Science foundation staed that the work done to discover that the amount of hydrogen sulfide was the cause of the odor was an innovative use of the instrument as the telescope is created to study explosive experiments around black holes. The fact that its use has been extended to solve a longstanding mystery in our solar system is impressive, to say the least. "Uranus and Neptune formed in a colder part of the solar nebula than Jupiter and Saturn". As the signal from the spectral lines was faint, it is so hard to capture a snap of the ammonia and sulfide existence.

"Only a tiny amount remains above the clouds as a saturated vapour", said Fletcher. The conditions that existed when the planets formed may have shaped which of the two compounds became dominant in the upper clouds.

So far, the debate has been around whether hydrogen sulphide or ammonia dominated the gas giant's atmosphere, but astronomers have finally settled it with this new finding, notes the report.

The data allowed them to determine that hydrogen sulfide was indeed present, and at much greater concentrations than ammonia (composed of nitrogen and hydrogen), which sets the green gas giant apart from its planetary companions Jupiter and Saturn. The study revealed that the clouds in the Uranus upper atmosphere contain mostly hydrogen sulfide, which contributes to Uranus's stench.