Recently, a scientist from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory located in Pasadena, California discovered that planet Uranus is surrounded by clouds of hydrogen sulfide, a gas smelling like rotten eggs. So far, researchers were unable to spot it because most of the clouds covering Uranus are hidden behind a blurring layer of other compounds.
Scientists have always wanted to discover the composition of the clouds around Uranus, so they sent Voyager 2 on the planet. The spacecraft is the first and only possible detector that ever visited the planet, but unfortunately, because of the haze around the clouds, the spaceship was not able to detect the gas. In this case, researchers had nothing else to do than to speculate and debate whether the clouds are composed of ammonia or hydrogen sulfide.
How did they manage to identify the gas
The hydrogen sulfide from Uranus’s clouds was spotted with help from the Near-Infrared Integral Field Spectrometer (NIFS). This instrument is placed on the 26.25-foot (eight-meter) Gemini North telescope located on the Mauna Kea island from Hawaii.
The research was conducted by Glenn Orton, lead expert at NASA’s JPL. He and his team used spectroscopy to identify the hydrogen sulfide. The technique helped them study the infrared light emitted by Uranus and thus, they concluded that hydrogen sulfide found on the planet is responsible for the rotten eggs smell.
On the other hand, the clouds of Jupiter and Saturn don’t have any percent of the pesky-smelling gas; they are composed only of ammonia. If we were to look for similarities between Uranus and other planets, we would find out that Neptune’s clouds could have the same compounds. In this case, the difference is made by the way the planets were born and their evolution processes.
As low as the hydrogen sulfide level from Uranus’s atmosphere might be, it can still have a very unpleasant effect if humans are exposed to it. It produces a temperature below 200 degrees Celsius (which means minus 328 degrees Fahrenheit) and the cocktail of toxic gases found in it (hydrogen, helium and methane) would suffocate people.