What Does Space Smell Like?

Space Smell: We all know space is empty, right? Most of space is entirely empty of anything — not dust, not planets nor sun, not even air. So, why do many of the individuals who’ve travelled to space and spent time in there remark that space has a smell?

How The Space Smell Be Like?

It turns out that space does smell, and our solar system has a very unique fragrance.

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This is presumably the consequence of multiple reasons, but all are clear: Our part of the cosmos is sort of nasty. If you’re intrigued to understand what space smells like and why it smells that way, the answer may surprise you.

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Burning Metal, Almond Cookies

While no astronaut has been dumb enough to unclasp and remove their helmet in the vacuum of space (which is extremely bad for lifespan), astronauts have reported a fragrance upon returning from space.

Specifically, several astronauts describe distinct odors in the airlock after engaging in spacewalks. “The closest description I can come up with is metallic; a pretty nice sweet metallic feeling,” wrote astronaut Don Pettit, according to Space.com.

“It reminded me of my college summers when I struggled for many hours with an arc welding torch fixing heavy equipment for a small logging business. It reminded me of nice sweet-smelling welding fumes. That is the fragrance of space.”

Pettit participated in multiple EVAs (extravehicular activities or spacewalks) throughout his NASA career, acquiring recurrent familiarity with the stench.

Other astronauts have described it in similar but diverse ways: “burning metal,” “a definite sense of ozone, an acrid stench,” “walnuts and brake pads,” “gunpowder” and even “burnt almond biscuit.”

Much as all wine experts sense something a little different in the bottle, astronaut reports varied significantly in their “smelling notes” but have one thing in common: a charred scent.

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What May Explain Why Space Smells Burnt?

There are two plausible reasons.

1. The Oxidation Explanation

One notion to explain the scent of space pertains to the procedure that happens in the airlock when astronauts return from space to the International Space Station or ship they call home while orbiting Earth.

During re-pressurization, the chemical process of oxidation happens; atoms of oxygen in space attach to the astronaut’s suit and float in during the de-pressurized period while the airlock is open and combine to generate atmospheric oxygen (O2) (O2).

This process is analogous to combustion without the flame and smoke — and smells similar too, which would explain the smoky, charred stench astronauts describe.

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2. The Stellar Explosion Explanation

A second notion concerning what can explain the scent of space that astronauts perceive upon coming via the airlock pertains to stellar explosions – that is, dying stars.

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Though we’ve only been studying the night sky for a few decades, the universe is approximately 13.7 billion years old, and our solar system is thought to be roughly 4.5 billion years old.

This implies that for literally billions of years before our solar system ever existed, stars were being created and dying throughout the cosmos.

When stars die, it tends to be a theatrical event, and this bombastic process releases a substance called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) (PAHs).

PAHs are widespread throughout the solar system, even here on Earth; they may be found in certain foods, coal and oil, among other items. They also arise when coal, tobacco, wood, meat and other items are burnt.

Perhaps part of the reason space has a strongly burned and charcoal scent is because it — like a grill on a warm evening — is spewing pungent PAHs.

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