Monday, July 23, 2012

The smell of space

A composite of 2 photographs of the sun from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory taken on July 12, 2012. An extreme-ultraviolet image of arcing solar material is superimposed on a picture of the magnetic fields. Taken just before a powerful solar flare was unleashed, the combined photos help scientists better understand the origins and causes of the flares.
Astronaut Tony Antonelli states that outer space "definitely has a smell that's different than anything else." Yet, the odor has been compared to many things:
"seared steak"
"hot metal"
"welding fumes"
"a distinct odor of ozone, a faint acrid smell"
"a little like gunpowder"
"sulfurous" concludes, "The final frontier smells a lot like a Nascar race - a bouquet of hot metal, diesel fumes and barbecue." NASA is trying to reproduce the elusive smell for training purposes, hiring scent chemist Steve Pearce, who recreated the scents of the Mir space station for an art installation on "Impossible Smells." According to him Mir is stinky: "Just imagine sweaty feet and stale body odor, mix that odor with nail polish remover and gasoline ... then you get close!" Compared to that, the odor that clings to astronauts after a spacewalk outside the International Space Station - attributed mainly to ethyl formate - is nowhere near as foul. Astronaut Don Pettit says, "The best description I can come up with is metallic; a rather pleasant sweet metallic sensation. It reminded me of my college summers where I labored for many hours with an arc welding torch repairing heavy equipment for a small logging outfit. It reminded me of pleasant sweet smelling welding fumes. That is the smell of space."
Less than 2 hours after posting this, 
I learned of the death of 61-year-old Sally Ride
America's 1st female astronaut
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