Scientists studying the massive planet have found that the atmosphere has a strong smell of rotten eggs.
Uranus is a totally inhospitable place, but even if we could live there, we would not want to find it thanks to the terrible stench we would have. Because a new study has shown that the upper atmosphere of the planet consists of hydrogen sulfide, which would smell like rotten eggs a thousand times.
Of course, humanity would have much more problems than if you have ever visited Uranus, as the temperature reaches minus 200 degrees Celsius and the atmosphere is made up of methane, helium and hydrogen that would suffocate us, we would ever try them breathe.
The discovery is fascinating because it tells us much more about the composition of clouds floating high in the Uranus sky. Scientists have been trying to find out if they have ammonia nuclei like Jupiter and Saturn or if it's hydrogen sulfide ice. Previous studies were inconclusive, and because of the great distance of the planet, it is difficult to study in more detail.
Researchers use the near infrared integral field spectrometer (NIFC) on the 26-foot Gemini North Telescope Hawai to study Uranus's atmosphere.
The full statement of the Association of Universities for Astronomy Research (AURA) follows below.
Hydrogen sulphide, the gas that gives lazy eggs its characteristic odor, permeates the upper atmosphere of the planet Uranus ̵
Even after decades of observations and a visit to the spacecraft Voyager 2, Uranus still held on to a crucial mystery: the composition of its clouds. Now one of the key components of the planet's clouds has finally been verified.
Patrick Irwin of the University of Oxford, UK, and global collaborators, spectroscopically dissected the infrared light from Uranus, which was captured by the 8-meter twin telescope on Hawaii's Maunakea. They found hydrogen sulfide, the poisonous gas that most people avoid, in clouds of Uranus. The long sought proof was published in the April 23 issue of the journal Nature Astronomy.
The Gemini data obtained with the near-infrared integral field spectrometer (NIFS) detected reflected sunlight from a region immediately above the main visible cloud layer in the Uranus atmosphere. "While the lines we tried to spot were just there, we were able to see them clearly, thanks to the sensitivity of NIFS to Gemini, combined with the exquisite conditions on Maunakea," said Irwin. "Although we knew these lines would be at the limit of detection, I decided to look for them in the Gemini data we had acquired."
"This work is a strikingly innovative use of an instrument that was originally developed to study the explosive environments around huge black holes in the centers of distant galaxies," said Chris Davis of the United States National Science Foundation, a leading financial backer for the Gemini -Teleskops. "The use of NIFS to solve a long-running mystery in our own solar system is a powerful extension of its use," adds Davis.
Astronomers have long debated the composition of Uranus clouds and whether hydrogen sulfide or ammonia dominate the cloud cover there is no definitive evidence. "Thanks to improved hydrogen sulphide absorption line data and the wonderful Gemini spectra, we now have the fingerprint that has caught the culprit," says Irwin. The spectroscopic absorption lines (where the gas absorbs some of the infrared light from reflected sunlight) are, according to Irwin, particularly weak and difficult to detect.
The detection of hydrogen sulfide high in the Uranus cloud cover (and presumably Neptune) contrasts sharply with the inner gas giant planets Jupiter and Saturn, where no hydrogen sulfide can be seen above the clouds, but ammonia. Most of the upper clouds of Jupiter and Saturn are Ammonia Keys, but that does not seem to be the case with Uranus. These differences in atmospheric composition shed light on questions about the origin and history of planets.
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 gas giants (Jupiter and Saturn), and the ice giants (Uranus and Neptune) were likely during the Birth of these worlds regressed. "During the formation of our solar system, the equilibrium between nitrogen and sulfur (and thus ammonia and uranium" newly discovered hydrogen sulfide) was determined by the temperature and location of planet formation. "
Another factor in the early formation of Uranus is the strong evidence that the giant planets of our solar system have probably migrated from their original location. Therefore, the confirmation of this compositional information is invaluable in understanding Uranus' birthplace, evolution and refinement models of planetary migration.
According to Fletcher, a cloud cover blocks the cloud-forming gas in a deep inner reservoir by condensation, hidden beneath the planes we normally see with our telescopes. "Only a tiny amount remains as saturated vapor over the clouds," said Fletcher. "And that's why it's so hard to grasp the signatures of ammonia and hydrogen sulphide over the cloud cover of Uranus, and Gemini's superior abilities finally gave us the fortune break," concludes Fletcher.
Glenn Orton from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of NASA and another member of the research team note, "We strongly suspected that hydrogen sulfide gas affected the atmosphere millimeter and radio spectrum of Uranus for some time, but we were unable to absorb it This part of the puzzle also fits together well. "
While the results set a lower bound on the amount of hydrogen sulfide around uranium, it is interesting to speculate what the humans themselves are at would have these concentrations. "If an unhappy human ever descended through the clouds of Uranus, they would be hit with very unpleasant and olfactory conditions." But the foul smell would not be the worst after Irwin. "Asphyxiation and exposure in the 200 degree C negative atmosphere, mainly hydrogen, helium, and methane, would take their toll long before the smell," concludes Irwin.
The new findings indicate that the atmosphere may be unpleasant to humans. This far-off world is fertile ground for exploring the early history of our solar system and perhaps understanding the physical conditions on other large, icy worlds orbiting the stars beyond our Sun.