Have you ever wondered what outer space smells like?
Believe it or not, space actually has a distinct odor.
In this article, we’ll explore some of the surprising scents astronauts encounter beyond Earth’s atmosphere.
1. Burnt Gunpowder Is the Most Commonly Described Smell of Space
Many astronauts have reported that space smells like burnt gunpowder. This is likely due to residue left on space suits from engine firings as spacecraft lift off. The smell lingers as astronauts complete spacewalks and other activities outside their spacecraft. While not unpleasant, it serves as a constant reminder they are venturing into the unknown reaches of space.
2. Astronauts Compare the Smell of Hot Metal and Welding Fumes
In addition to burnt gunpowder, astronauts say space also smells like hot metal and welding fumes. The scent likely originates from vaporized metal caused by the extreme heat during takeoff and friction between the spacecraft and particles in space.
According to astronauts, these metallic notes are present not only during spacewalks but also inside the air-tight habitat of the space station. While not overpowering, it’s a constant reminder of the complex machinery keeping them alive in the harsh environment of space.
3. The Smell Comes From Compounds Like Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons
The specific sources of space’s peculiar odor are still being investigated, but studies have identified some likely chemical culprits. Compounds like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are found in diesel fumes and barbecue smoke, are present due to astronauts and machinery.
Dimethyl sulfide, a microbial byproduct also responsible for the smell of cabbage, could be coming from astronauts’ bodies. While we don’t have a complete picture yet, it’s clear that space’s unique scent comes from a complex mix of chemicals, some produced by our own bodies!
4. These Compounds Are Created When Stars Die and Planets Form
The origins of these smelly compounds can be traced back billions of years. When stars reach the end of their lives and explode as supernovae, they produce heavy elements like carbon. These elements go on to form cosmic dust clouds and primordial planets.
The extreme heat and pressure in these environments give rise to many complex organic molecules, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Over time, these compounds make their way into the atmospheres of newly formed planets. So in a sense, the unique scent of space comes from the stuff that stars and planets are made of!
5. Solar Winds Also Carry the Smell of Space to Other Planets
The molecules that give space its scent aren’t confined to their planet of origin. Streams of particles flowing out from the Sun, known as solar wind, can pick up these compounds and distribute them across the solar system.
Like an interplanetary delivery service, solar wind spreads the unique aroma of space to all the planets it encounters along the way. This allows distant worlds like Mars to get a whiff of what deep space smells like. So the next time you look up at the night sky, know that you’re not only seeing the stars but smelling them too!
6. The Moon Is Said to Smell Like Spent Gunpowder
The Moon presents its own distinct scent profile separate from the void of space. Astronauts who walked on the lunar surface during the Apollo missions described smelling something akin to burnt gunpowder upon removing their helmets. This odor is attributed to the combination of lunar dust particles clinging to their spacesuits and the pure oxygen atmosphere pumped into the suits.
The Moon lacks an atmosphere like Earth’s to trap smells, but its ancient, dry, chalky regolith still emits an aroma – one reminiscent of ash rather than the freshness of outer space. So the Moon’s nostalgic gunpowder scent contrasts markedly with the metallic zing of interstellar space.
7. Mars Smells Like a Mix of Diesel Fuel and Creosote Bushes
In contrast to the Moon’s gunpowder aroma, the Red Planet presents an entirely different smellscape. Multiple NASA rover missions have analyzed Martian soil samples, detecting chemical compounds linked to diesel fuel and creosote bushes.
Scientists attribute these distinctive scents to organic molecules containing sulfur and chlorine. The creosote notes come from benzene ring structures in the soil, reminiscent of the oily fragrance of creosote bushes on Earth. Meanwhile, the diesel-like smells originate from other sulfur-chlorine combinations.
With its cold desert climate and lack of flowing water, Mars retains these volatile compounds in its dust, producing an earthy, petrichor-tinged perfume. So the next time you refuel your car or drive past creosote bushes, imagine you’re exploring the surface of Mars and its singular smells.
8. Jupiter Has an Ammonia-Rich Smell Mixed With Rotten Eggs
Shifting our focus to Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system, we encounter a unique olfactory journey. Jupiter’s atmosphere primarily contains hydrogen and helium, with traces of methane, ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, and other compounds.
This mix of chemicals gives Jupiter a smell that many describe as a blend of ammonia and rotten eggs. The strong ammonia scent arises from the planet’s rich atmospheric ammonia, imparting a cleaner, chemical-like aroma. At the same time, the presence of minor amounts of hydrogen sulfide adds the characteristic rotten egg smell.
Moreover, the intense lightning storms on Jupiter likely create smoky, burnt aromas due to chemical reactions in the atmosphere. While we might never directly experience the atmosphere of Jupiter, some backyard astronomers claim to detect its unique scent when aiming their telescopes at the planet. So, the next time the aroma of cleaning products or sulfur hits your nose, imagine you’re catching a brief scent of Jupiter’s cloud tops, millions of miles away.
9. Saturn’s Moon Titan Smells Like a Combination of Gasoline and Vinegar
Venturing deeper into our solar system, Saturn’s largest moon Titan has an atmosphere that would seem strangely familiar. With an air composition rich in hydrocarbons like methane and ethane, Titan’s smell has been likened to a mixture of gasoline and vinegar.
The gasoline notes come from the various hydrocarbons in the atmosphere, several of which are key ingredients in gasoline on Earth. Meanwhile, the vinegar scent can be attributed to acetylene and hydrogen cyanide, which have been compared to the smell of vinegar. Titan’s orange hazy atmosphere is also believed to contain benzene, a chemical with a sweet, aromatic odor.
So while Titan may be one of the few celestial bodies with a somewhat Earth-like atmosphere, its complex chemical makeup produces an alien smell that is simultaneously familiar yet foreign to our noses. Getting a whiff of Titan would be an intriguing sensory experience, providing a reminder that even across vast distances of space, the chemistry of planetary atmospheres can have noticeable similarities.
10. Comets Emit a Bitter Almond Odor From the Cyanide in Their Tails
Delving into the far reaches of our solar system, comets often provide a brief spectacle as they pass by the Sun. But these icy objects have more to offer than just a visible show. As the ice in their nucleus turns to gas, comets give off a distinctive scent from the materials released in their tails.
One component is hydrogen cyanide, which breaks down into cyanide ions. This gives comets a bitter almond type of smell, as cyanide is similar to the compound that provides the flavor of bitter almonds. The bitter almond odor is due to benzaldehyde, whereas the scent of comets comes specifically from cyanide.
So while you may not want to take a deep whiff, comets provide an interesting opportunity to smell components of our solar system’s distant past. Their unique aroma offers a sensory experience to complement the majestic visuals.
11. Nebulae Gives off Floral and Fruity Scents From Ethyl Formate
Venturing beyond our solar system, we find nebulae as giant clouds of gas and dust where stars form. These breathtaking astronomical structures also possess a unique scent profile. Radiation from newborn stars reacts with the chemicals in nebulae, producing complex organic compounds like ethyl formate.
This ester compound gives off fruity, floral aromas. For instance, ethyl formate creates the scent of rum and also appears in the smell of certain flowers and fruits, such as raspberries.
So, while we see nebulae as colorful cosmic clouds in images, they also emit a delightful fruit-like fragrance. The idea that the starting points of life’s building blocks in these star nurseries might carry a sweet, floral aroma is fascinating. Even from lightyears away, nebulae demonstrate how chemistry creates familiar scents throughout the universe.
12. Even Empty Space Has an Odor From Residual Molecules Between Stars
At first glance, the space vacuum seems to have no scent. Yet, even this seemingly empty space holds trace particles and molecules. Atoms and molecules from stellar winds and radiation pressure exist between the stars. These particles spread across interstellar space, giving the vacuum its unique smell.
These residual molecules combine to create a smell that reminds one of seared steak, hot metal, and welding fumes. This sharp, metallic scent comes from the sulfur compounds carbon disulfide and hydrogen sulfide. NASA astronauts have said they smelled this unique “space smell” when particles outside the space station contaminated their helmets.
So, even though the space vacuum doesn’t have detectable oxygen, enough stray molecules exist to create a strange burned aroma – even lightyears from the nearest star. This faint but clear scent of outer space fills the apparent void.
What Does the Moon Smell Like?
The Moon has no atmosphere, so it does not have a smell that could be detected. The Moon’s surface is covered in a thin layer of dust made from crushed rocks and micrometeorite impacts. This lunar dust would not have an odor that could be smelled if brought back to Earth.
Does Space Smell Like Burnt Bacon?
No, space does not smell like burnt bacon. Space is essentially a vacuum, so there are no molecules to transmit a smell. Astronauts have reported smelling smells like burnt metal or welding fumes after spacewalks, which may be from particles venting into space or interacting with their spacesuits. But space itself has no distinct smell.
How Does Space Smell if There Is No Air?
Space is a vacuum, so there are no air molecules to carry scents that could be smelled. However, astronauts have reported smelling scents like burnt steak, rumbling metal, and gunpowder after spacewalks. This may be particles from venting equipment or interactions with their spacesuit that get carried back inside when they repressurize. But space itself has no smell.
Does Space Smell Like Steak?
No, space does not smell like steak. The reports of space smelling like burnt steak likely come from particles venting into space and either interacting with an astronaut’s spacesuit or getting carried back into the spacecraft when they repressurize after a spacewalk. But space itself, being a vacuum, has no smell.
Space is a vacuum, so it has no smell. However, astronauts have reported smelling scents like gunpowder, rumbling metal, and burnt steak after completing spacewalks. This is likely due to particles venting into space from equipment that either interact with their spacesuits or get carried back into the spacecraft when they repressurize. While space itself has no distinct smell, the scents astronauts briefly experience highlight that space is not completely empty and odors can emanate from interactions between particles and spacesuit surfaces. Overall, figuring out what space smells like provides insights into the particles encountered during spacewalks and the experiences of astronauts working in space.