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What Does Outer Space Smell Like?

What Does Outer Space Smell Like? 1

The final frontier smells a lot like a Nascar race-a bouquet of hot metal, diesel fumes and barbecue. The source? Dying stars, mostly.

The by-products of all this rampant combustion are smelly compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. These molecules “seem to be all over the universe,” says Louis Allamandola, the founder and director of the Astrophysics and Astrochemistry Lab at NASA Ames Research Center. “And they float around forever,” appearing in comets, meteors and space dust. These hydrocarbons have even been shortlisted for the basis of the earliest forms of life on Earth. Not surprisingly, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons can be found in coal, oil and even food.

Though a pure, unadulterated whiff of outer space is impossible for humans (it’s a vacuum after all; we would die if we tried), when astronauts are outside the ISS, space-borne compounds adhere to their suits and hitch a ride back into the station. Astronauts have reported smelling “burned” or “fried” steak after a space walk, and they aren’t just dreaming of a home-cooked meal.

What Does Outer Space Smell Like?
Sputnik 1, launched in 1957, was partly made of aluminium – now scientists believe the smell of metal is one of the key scents in space
The smell of space is so distinct that, three years ago, NASA reached out to Steven Pearce of the fragrance maker Omega Ingredients to re-create the odor for its training simulations. “Recently we did the smell of the moon,” Pearce says. “Astronauts compared it to spent gunpowder.”
 
A description from astronaut Don Pettit.
 
‘Each time, when I repressed the airlock, opened the hatch and welcomed two tired workers inside, a peculiar odor tickled my olfactory senses,’ Pettit said.
 
‘At first I couldn’t quite place it. It must have come from the air ducts that re-pressed the compartment.
 
‘Then I noticed that this smell was on their suit, helmet, gloves, and tools. It was more pronounced on fabrics than on metal or plastic surfaces.’
 
However, he admits it is hard to pin down the exact smell of space.
 
‘It is hard to describe this smell; it is definitely not the olfactory equivalent to describing the palette sensations of some new food as ‘tastes like chicken.’
 
‘The best description I can come up with is metallic; a rather pleasant sweet metallic sensation.
 
‘It reminded me of my college summers where I labored for many hours with an arc welding torch repairing heavy equipment for a small logging outfit.
 
‘It reminded me of pleasant sweet smelling welding fumes.
 
‘That is the smell of space.’
 
Allamandola explains that our solar system is particularly pungent because it is rich in carbon and low in oxygen, and “just like a car, if you starve it of oxygen you start to see black soot and get a foul smell.” Oxygen-rich stars, however, have aromas reminiscent of a charcoal grill. Once you leave our galaxy, the smells can get really interesting. In dark pockets of the universe, molecular clouds full of tiny dust particles host a veritable smorgasbord of odors, from wafts of sweet sugar to the rotten-egg stench of sulfur.
 
This article originally appeared in the February 2011 issue of Popular Sciencemagazine.
 

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30 Comments on "What Does Outer Space Smell Like?"

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Brimstone.

Guest

Teen Spirit

Guest

Yes this is True… watched a program on the Science Channel

Guest

Interesting

Guest

Solar wind would probably smell of rust

Guest

Probably smells like vanilla flavoured nothing.

Guest

Teen Spirit…

Guest
Guest

Well,take ur helmet off and find out.

Guest

I think it smells like the number 7

Guest

You won’t be able to tell us because you’ll be dead before you can tell anyone.

Guest

Oh it has a burnt smell to it. I read that somewhere.

Guest

I don’t know. Why don’t you go out there and take a big whiff and come back and tell me.

Guest

Star dust..Jet fuel. And Weed..and Trash. Who knows..

Guest

Nothing, it’s a vacuum

Guest

Tell me your vacume cleaner doesn’t smell.

Guest

IF YOU CAN’T BREATH, YOU CAN’T SMELL, THAT’S A DUMB QUESTION !

Guest

Ricardo vega who’s dumb now

Guest

We know how certain gasses smell now dont we

Guest

Just like being around a fire or fire. The smell stays on the suit.

Guest

It’s what space astronauts smelt on their space suits after coming back onboard. Plus, there are other ways of smelling by using technology to to do it for u.

Guest

It smells like Hillary’s ass, since she thinks her ass is out of this world.

Guest

You might be right there is a lot of helium

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😄

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I think it might smell like an electrical burn.

Guest

polycyclic

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Alien farts….g3t with the program

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Dust

Guest

It has no air stupid

Guest

Wil Farnham guess it smells a lot like heaven lol

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