Tag Archives: planets

Uranus Smells like Rotten Eggs


It’s bad enough that Uranus is the “butt” of all jokes, but now, kids all over the world can now say that Uranus smells like a “butt.”

Uranus’ upper clouds are made of hydrogen sulfide, the same molecule that gives rotten eggs that awful smell. This was discovered Leigh Fletcher and his colleagues detected the chemical fingerprint of hydrogen sulfide at the top of the planet’s clouds. The team issued their reports in the April 23 issue of Nature Astronomy.

This discovery wasn’t a complete surprise, though—observations from the 1990’s showed hints of the chemical lurking deep in the atmosphere of Uranus, but the gas wasn’t conclusively detected.

As it turns out, the clouds are not just the smell of farts, but they may have helped in discovering some details of the early solar system. It is likely that frozen hydrogen sulfide ice crystals would have been abundant in further reaches of the early solar system, suggesting that Uranus and Neptune were born farther from the sun than Jupiter and Saturn.

Fletcher says that “this tells you the gas giants and the ice giants were formed in a sightly different way.”

Fletcher and his team now are planning to send a spacecraft to the ice giants of Uranus and Neptune, the first since the Voyager spacecraft, which visited in the 1980’s.

So while all of the crude humor surrounding this planet may have grown stale, none can now deny the irony of its atmosphere, nor the wonders that such distant bodies still dangle before our scientists today.

Looks like Uranus was in on the joke this whole time.


Photo from Nasa.gov

All aliens are dead

Recent research proposes that any life on habitable planets would likely be wiped out very quickly.

Analysts from The Australian National University say, in the journal Astrobiology, existence on a developing planet would most-likely “die out due to runaway heating or cooling.”

Aditya Chopra from The Australian National University Research School of Earth Sciences and lead author on the paper said, ”The universe is probably filled with habitable planets, so many scientists think it should be teeming with aliens.”

Aliens are dead. Graphic by Katie Gibson
Aliens are dead. Graphic by Katie Gibson

The major explanation, says Chopra, is the absence of solidity.

“Most early planetary environments are unstable,” Chopra said. “To produce a habitable planet, life forms need to regulate greenhouse gases such as water and carbon dioxide to keep surface temperatures stable.”

Two cases  of this are Venus and Mars; these planets could have been habitable at one point, but while Venus became a “hothouse,” Mars became a relative “icebox.”

The paper’s co-author, Charley Lineweaver, from The Australian National University Planetary Science Institute, states that any basic existence on Mars or Venus could have failed to help stabilize the environment.

The study additionally clarifies Fermi’s Paradox, which expresses that in spite of the high chances of habitable planets, we have yet to locate any indication of extraterrestrial life.

Scientists say that a conceivable answer to Fermi’s paradox is near universal early extinction, which they have named the Gaian Bottleneck.

In exploration planning to see how life may develop, the researchers acknowledged that new life would regularly cease to exist because of runaway warming or cooling on their developing planets.

Around four billion years ago, Earth, Venus and Mars might have all been habitable. However, a billion years or so after formation, Venus turned into a hothouse and Mars froze into an icebox.

Early microbial life on Venus and Mars, if there was any, neglected to balance out the quickly evolving environment, said co-author Associate Professor Charley Lineweaver from the Australian National University Planetary Science Institute.

Rough, wet planets, with the ingredients and vitality sources required for life appear to be omnipresent, on the other hand, as physicist Enrico Fermi called attention to in 1950, no indications of surviving extraterrestrial life have been found.

A copy of the paper can be downloaded here.

Pluto is back!

Alright, so maybe definitely crying that Pluto is back could be misleading — it hasn’t yet been voted back to official planet status. However, there’s a new argument stating that a “dwarf planet” is still a planet. It’s right there in the name, for crying out loud!

Back in 2006 the International Astronomical Union voted through a fraction of their members (who hadn’t left yet) to demote the ninth planet as it was smaller and less unique than other bodies in our solar system. They additionally decided not to vote again with the rest of the members present because they wanted to break for lunch.

Pluto isn't at the kid's table anymore. Graphic by Grace Higginbotham
Pluto isn’t at the kid’s table anymore. Graphic by Grace Higginbotham

Clearly, it was all very official — just like the scientific definition of a planet. The rule the IAU has officially claimed to make an astronomical body a planet has three parts:

1) The body must orbit the sun.

2) It has to be mostly spherical.

3) It should have gravitationally cleared out everything else from its orbital traffic lane.

Unfortunately, Pluto doesn’t have a clear road for its entire journey around the sun, thereby disqualifying it and several other large bodies in our solar system that might otherwise qualify as a planet.

Despite this failing on the littlest (former) planet’s part, several of these defining members of the IAU have recently begun to argue in favor of reinstating the planet’s status. The current nay-sayers are primarily holding out due to the precedent it sets for other large bodies presently orbiting our sun.

There is a concern that if Pluto is defined as a true planet, then with this new definition, there’ll soon be dozens, perhaps hundreds of other possible bodies that fit into planet status. If there were so many planets, how would the children be able to memorize all those names?

Yeah. That’s the argument. They want to keep the number of planets as low as possible to not inconvenience school children or their teachers. I suppose the current pneumonic, My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas, would get a lot of tack-ons and end up making no sense by the end with all those other astronomical bodies becoming included. Poor kids.