science of us

Uranus Smells Like Farts

Uranus. Photo: NASA/JPL

It turns out that “Uranus” is a very appropriate name for the seventh planet from the sun. A new study from the University of Oxford discovered that Uranus is literally surrounded by farts — uh, or more scientifically, has an upper atmosphere made up of hydrogen sulfide, the compound responsible for the smell of rotten eggs. And farts.

“If an unfortunate human were ever to descend through Uranus’s clouds, they would be met with very unpleasant and odiferous conditions,” Patrick Irwin, one of the study’s authors, said in a news release. Although the average human being would likely never get close enough to Uranus to confront such conditions: “Suffocation and exposure in the -200 degrees Celsius atmosphere made of mostly hydrogen, helium, and methane would take its toll long before the smell,” Irwin said.

Scientists who have studied Uranus before already speculated that the planet was dominated mostly by either ammonia or hydrogen sulfide, but there has never been actual proof until now. To uncover the scent, Oxford scientists used a highly sensitive, 8-meter Gemini North telescope at Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano in Hawaii, to examine the light bouncing off Uranus. Since different compounds cast off different identifiable wavelengths of light, scientists were able to determine what compounds were inside Uranus’s atmosphere by studying their wavelengths. Irwin said it was a serious challenge to detect hydrogen-sulfide molecules; it was only possible due to the telescope’s sensitivity and the crystal clear conditions of Mauna Kea. But as a result, the universe made the greatest fart joke of all time. It’s over. Everyone can go home now.

Uranus Smells Like Farts