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Uranus stench really is the butt of all jokes

The closer you get to it, the more likely you are to smell farts and rotten eggs. It's not just a punchline, it's science.

Artist's rendering of Uranus as seen from its small moon Miranda.
Eric Wernquist/NASA

If there is such a thing as a universal sense of humor, scientists have just confirmed that the universe has the maturity level of a 7 year old. That's because the fact really is that Uranus smells like farts and rotten eggs.

New, highly sensitive observations of the ice giant planet confirm that super-stinky hydrogen sulfide gas swirls around high in its cloud banks. 

Astronomers from the University of Oxford and elsewhere used data from the Gemini North telescope in Hawaii to conclude that Uranus has the odor of sewage or Easter Eggs not found until May.

"If an unfortunate human were ever to descend through Uranus's clouds, they would be met with very unpleasant and odiferous conditions," explains Patrick Irwin from the University of Oxford, in a statement.  

Irwin is lead author on a paper published Monday in Nature Astronomy detailing the fragrant findings.

It's long been debated whether the upper atmosphere of Uranus has that sulfuric stink or is made up more of almost equally stank ammonia like the gas giants Saturn and Jupiter. (We know at least one comet smells like both: bonus!) Conclusive data has been elusive until the Gemini telescope, meant for observing more distant objects like black holes, shifted its eye on the planet. 

Should humans ever make it to Uranus, the smell would be the least of the challenges lurking there.

"Suffocation and exposure in the negative 200 degrees Celsius atmosphere made of mostly hydrogen, helium, and methane would take its toll long before the smell," Irwin says.

This should come as no surprise to many 7-year-olds who have always warned of the potential for suffocation from Uranus. Ha!

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