Scientists detect rotten egg smell from exoplanet where molten glass rains

Scientists have discovered thousands of exoplanets in other solar systems, and some of them are particularly strange compared to our stellar neighborhood. For example, HD 189733 b, a planet 65 light-years away in the constellation Vulpecula, is larger than Jupiter, the largest planet in Earth’s solar system. But it also rains molten glass at extremely high temperatures, with flaming shards flying sideways in winds that reach speeds of up to 5,000 mph (8,046 km/h).

Although it was discovered in 2005 and immediately attracted attention for its striking blue-white appearance, HD 189733b is still revealing strange properties. A recent report from the James Webb Space Telescope revealed that the exoplanet likely smells like rotten eggs. Apparently, the explanation lies in hydrogen sulfide, the same compound found in crude oil, sewage sludge, and volcanic gases. Hydrogen sulfide infamously smells like flatulence or rotten eggs, a fact that did not escape the notice of the astronomers who discovered it in the atmosphere of HD 189733 b.

“Hydrogen sulfide is an important molecule that we didn’t know existed. We predicted it would be there and we know it’s in Jupiter, but we hadn’t really discovered it outside the solar system,” astrophysicist and team leader Guangwei Fu of Johns Hopkins University said in a statement. “We’re not looking for life on this planet because it’s way too hot, but finding hydrogen sulfide is a stepping stone to finding this molecule on other planets and gaining more insight into how different types of planets form.”

Fu added: “Sulfur is an essential element for building more complex molecules and – like carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and phosphate – scientists need to study it more to fully understand how planets formed and what they are made of.”

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