It’s a smell that make most people gag, but it seems that Uranus has the distinct aroma of rotten eggs.
Scientists from the University of Oxford have discovered a cloud of hydrogen sulphide – the gas that gives rotten eggs their smell – surrounding the planet.
In the study, the researchers analysed the infrared light from Uranus, captured by the Gemini North telescope on Hawaii’s Maunakea.
Their analysis revealed hydrogen sulphide in Uranus’ cloud tops.
While astronomers have previously theorised that Uranus’ clouds contain hydrogen sulphide, this is the first study to prove it.
Patrick Irwin, who led the study, said: “Now, thanks to improved hydrogen sulfide absorption-line data and the wonderful Gemini spectra, we have the fingerprint which caught the culprit.”
Unlike Uranus, Jupiter and Saturn have no hydrogen sulphide int their clouds, and instead have ammonia.
These differences could provide key insights into how the planets formed.
Leigh Fletcher, who also worked on the study, said: “During our Solar System’s formation the balance between nitrogen and sulphur (and hence ammonia and Uranus’s newly-detected hydrogen sulfide) was determined by the temperature and location of planet’s formation.”
The researchers also speculated about what the effects of the levels of hydrogen sulphide around Uranus would be on humans.
Dr Irwin said: “If an unfortunate human were ever to descend through Uranus’s clouds, they would be met with very unpleasant and odiferous conditions.
“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.”
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