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Scientists solve Uranus atmosphere mystery: it has the awful smell of a popoff

Natalie O’Neill, April 25, 2018 7:22PM New York Post

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The planet Uranus with its moons, photographed from space media_cameraThe planet Uranus with its moons, photographed from space


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Uranus, the seventh planet from the sun, smells like farts*, according to a new study from scientists at the University of Oxford.

The space rock’s upper atmosphere* is made up of a gas called hydrogen sulfide, the same gas that creates the smell of rotten eggs — and human popoffs — according to research* published in the journal* Nature Astronomy.

“If an unfortunate* human were ever to descend* through Uranus’s clouds, they would be met with very unpleasant and odiferous* conditions,” said Patrick Irwin, an Oxford scientist who led the study.

But thankfully humans are unlikely ever to catch a whiff of the gassy planet. The temperature around Uranus is very cold — about minus-200 degrees Celsius — and humans couldn’t survive. There are also other gases in the atmosphere that would be poisonous to humans.

To make the discovery, scientists used an 8m telescope to look at sunlight bouncing back to the telescope from the clouds around Uranus.

The way the light looks through the telescope showed Professor Irwin and other scientists from around the world that the clouds were made of hydrogen sulphide.

The light came back to the scientists through the giant Gemini North telescope, which is in Hawaii.

Scientists have been trying to solve this mystery for many years.

Even a visit close to Uranus by the Voyager 2 spacecraft in 1986, which sent information back to scientists, wasn’t enough to provide the answer.

Scientists can now use this new information to help better understand how, when and where Uranus and other planets formed.
Scientists believe Neptune may be surrounded by similar gas to Uranus. Planets closer to the sun, such as Jupiter and Saturn, are mostly surrounded by clouds of ammonia ice*.


farts: flatulence, wind or popoffs

atmosphere: the layers of gases between the surface of a planet and space

research: information found by looking and experimenting

journal: a magazine that prints the discoveries of researchers

unfortunate: unlucky

descend: go down

odiferous: smelly

ammonia ice: the frozen version of a gas made of hydrogen and nitrogen



1. What we know

Read the story carefully. List all of the information scientists have learned about Uranus.

Time: Allow 15 minutes

Curriculum Links: Science

Extension: Write a story that begins with: “No one believed that a human could land on Uranus, but I did it because …”

Include as many details as you can about what it would be like on Uranus and think about how a person could survive there.

Time: Allow 30 minutes

Curriculum Links: English, Critical and Creative Thinking, Science

2. You’re the expert

Inthe story, you read that Uranus is the seventh planet from the sun. Do you know the names of the other planets? Write down the names of all of the planets that you know. Then, add anything about each planet that you know.

Time: Allow 20 minutes

Curriculum Links: Science

Extension: Why is it important to spend so much time and money on learning as much as we can about planets like Uranus? Write paragraphs explaining your opinion on this question.

Time: Allow about 20 minutes for this activity.

Curriculum Links: Science


The glossary of terms helps you to understand and learn the ambitious vocabulary being used in the article. Can you use the words outlined in the glossary to create new sentences? Challenge yourself to include other VCOP (vocabulary, connectives, openers and punctuation) elements in your sentence/s. Have another look through the article, can you find any other Wow Words not outlined in the glossary?


Please do not use one-word answers. Explain what you enjoyed or found interesting about the article. Use lots of adjectives.

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