This Comet Stinks

The European Space Agency’s star spacecraft, Rosetta, is honing in on its target, Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. And the closer it gets, the more scientists are learning.

The latest report is the scent with which this comet is permeating space. If all comets smell like this one, then the solar system is a very stinky place!

Mix together the bitter smell of almonds, the sour odor of rotten eggs, the dank aroma of horse stable, the pungent aroma of formaldehyde, the biting scent of alcohol all together and voila: comet perfume.

Scientists can smell this comet because Rosetta has a spectrometer, which detects the chemical make up of the comet’s misty aura, called a coma, which forms around the comet when it travels close to the sun and the ice turns into a gas.

The chemicals that make up these nasty smells on Earth are usually pretty dense whereas the chemicals scientists are detecting from this comet are relatively sparse. As the comet approaches close to the sun, however, its fuzzy coma will grow. Thankfully, it will be too far for us to smell.

This stinky discovery is getting scientists pretty excited for what this comet will teach us.

“This all makes a scientifically enormously interesting mixture in order to study the origin of our solar system material, the formation of our Earth and the origin of life,” Kathrin Altwegg of the University of Bern, said in a release.

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