This scent was a real creative effort, but the chemistry of Saturn’s Moons and the following quotes from one of Marina’s lecturers, Professor Ian Crawford, and from her supervisor, Dr Louisa Preston, were extremely helpful.
“The space above Saturn's rings is so empty I'm not sure it makes sense to think of it as having a smell, but I might suspect a whiff of ozone owing to UV photo-dissociation of H2O molecules sublimating off the ring particles...” Ian Crawford, Professor of Planetary Science and Astrobiology at Birkbeck University of London, Vice-President of the Royal Astronomical Society, and also Chair of Sub-Commission B3 (The Moon) of the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR).
“I don’t see how the rings would have a smell themselves as a collective unit. They are mainly made of water-ice and rock which is mostly odourless…. Enceladus plumes are composed of volatile gases, water vapour, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide – all odourless…. Titan has an atmosphere predominantly nitrogen and methane but this as a smell wouldn’t match the spectral signatures we get from it. Apparently, the hydrocarbon benzene (a component of petrol) is also present and has a sweet aroma and makes the signatures match much more convincingly.“ Dr Louisa Preston, UK Space Agency Aurora Research Fellow in Astrobiology.
Some astronauts have described the smell of space as being like charred or burnt meat, others, such as ISS Science Officer Don Pettit, describe as metallic. In Space Chronicles #4 he says “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.”
So, with a combination of all the above, we set out to create our artistic interpretation of the smell of the Rings of Saturn! We’ll be exploring Saturn and its moons in much more detail in the future, stay tuned!