Cosmic Cocktail

01 Jan

Scientists examining a giant dust cloud near the heart of the Milky Way have come to some interesting conclusions. The cloud, called Sagittarius B2, is more than 150 light-years across and may in fact taste like raspberry daiquiris.

The scientists were using spectrum analysis to look for amino acids, the building blocks of life. All chemicals give off energy when they’re excited and each chemical compound has a unique signature. By tuning their telescopes to the right area and mode, the scientists can learn about chemicals millions of miles away.

Among the chemicals found in the gas cloud was a small 11-atom molecule called ethyl formate. On Earth ethyl formate is one of the chemicals that give raspberries their distinctive flavor (it also happens to smell reminiscent of rum). Also present in the cloud was ethanol, the kind of alcohol you’d find in vodka and whiskey, and some simple forms of sugar. All we need now is a solar system made of lemons and we’d have ourselves a party.

Although, really, even if you could somehow get to Sagittarius B2, you’d probably not want to ingest what you find. Mixed in with our galactic daiquiri is thousands of other chemicals, including cyanides and other poisons.

But even if we can’t get to that gas cloud, there are stories closer to Earth about the smells and tastes of space.

“I had the pleasure of operating the airlock for two of my crewmates while they went on several space walks,” said ISS Science Officer Don Pettit. Don Pettit is a veteran astronaut, engineer, and Angry Birds enthusiast. “Each time, when I repressed the airlock, opened the hatch and welcomed two tired workers inside, a peculiar odor tickled my olfactory senses. At first I couldn’t quite place it. It must have come from the air ducts that re-pressed the compartment. Then I noticed that this smell was on their suit, helmet, gloves, and tools. It was more pronounced on fabrics than on metal or plastic surfaces. It is hard to describe this smell; it is definitely not the olfactory equivalent to describing the palette sensations of some new food as ‘tastes like chicken.’ 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.”

Other astronauts have also said the smell reminded them of seared meat.


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Posted by on January 1, 2013 in Natural History


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