Uranus stinks like farts… and it took an Oxford University scientist to figure it out
Professor Patrick Irwin from the University of Oxford’s Department of Physics (yes, really) led the probe into Uranus, telling the world that “if an unfortunate human were ever to descend through Uranus’ clouds, they would be met with very unpleasant and odiferous conditions.”
Irwin’s team published a paper on Monday confirming that Uranus contains clouds of hydrogen sulfide, a gas that smells like rotten eggs. Luckily, there are worse things to deal with on Uranus than its foul odor. While there is no chance of contracting pink eye, there is a lack of oxygen and deathly cold temperatures.
“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," Irwin added.
Irwin and his team closely examined the infrared light that is emitted from Uranus, visible from the eight-meter Gemini North telescope the Mauna Kea volcano in Hawaii.
The content of the swirling gasses around Uranus have long been the subject of heated scientific debate. For Irwin, we finally have the answer. “Now, thanks to improved hydrogen sulfide absorption-line data and the wonderful Gemini spectra, we have the fingerprint which caught the culprit,” the professor said.
The detection of hydrogen sulfide high in Uranus’s cloud deck is in stark contrast to the other the inner-gas-giant planets with relatively unfunny names, Jupiter and Saturn. On those two gaseous monsters, no hydrogen sulfide is seen above the clouds. Instead ammonia is observed – how exciting.
These differences in a planet’s atmospheric composition shed light on questions about how the planets formed and their history… stinky or otherwise.
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