A long-debated theory has been confirmed about Uranus, one of the outer planets of our solar system: the planet smells bad, like rotten eggs.
For decades, scientists have postulated that the upper atmosphere of Uranus contains hydrogen sulfide, the gas that gives rotten eggs their unpleasant odor, but the idea was not tested until an international team of researchers observed it closely the planet, in a way never before seen.
Using the 8-meter Gemini North telescope in Hawaii and its integrated near-infrared field spectrometer, the group analyzed sunlight reflected by a region located just above the cloud layer visible in Uranus' atmosphere and found the signature of the hydrogen sulfide swirling there. The discovery, which according to the group was too difficult, confirms that stinky gas is one of the key elements behind the planet's clouds and not ammonia, which dominates the internal gas giants (Jupiter and Saturn) in the form of ammoniacal ice . .
Leigh Fletcher, a member of the research team at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom, said that cloud coverings such as Uranus are formed under the effect of condensation, which blocks the gas involved in the process in an internal reservoir depth that is impossible to penetrate from terrestrial telescopes.
"Only a small amount remains above the clouds like saturated steam," Fletcher added. "And this is why it is so challenging to capture the ammonia and hydrogen sulfide signatures on Uranian cloud cover."
However, Gemini and his instrument, originally designed to observe unstable regions around massive black holes, arrived and resolved "If an unfortunate human ever descended through the clouds of Uranus, they would encounter very unpleasant and unpleasant conditions", said study leader Patrick Irwin of the University of Oxford, describing the bad smell present on the planet. superior atmosphere.
But, it's worth noting that the rotten egg smell will not be the worst thing that will happen if humans ever decided to visit Uranus. In fact, when they scrutinize deep into the planet's atmosphere, extremely low temperatures, around 200 degrees Celsius below zero, combined with high levels of hydrogen, helium and methane will make survival impossible.
That said, Uranus and its associated stench could still do a pretty good job to help scientists understand the origin story of our system statistics and the bodies that inhabit it. According to Fletcher, it is plausible that the difference between the gas content in the cloud coverings that swirled over the ice giants, such as Uranus and Neptune, and the gaseous giants would be impressed by the temperatures and the location from where these bodies came to. exist.
The study of hydrogen sulfide and other gases that rotate on other planets could be the key to better understand how the planets of the solar system were formed, with some rocky bodies, while others are gaseous and giant ice. The work could even help us to refine the models that detail where they were formed and if they migrated from the original place at some point during the later stages of evolution.
The study, titled "Detection of hydrogen sulfide on clouds in Uranus' atmosphere," was published on April 23 in the journal Nature.