What Does Space Smell Like?

Astronaut Reid Wiseman takes to Twitter with an olfactory report from space.

Add "wet clothing after rolling around in the snow" to the ways astronauts describe the smell of space.

Although it's a bit of a divergence from "seared steak," "hot metal, "sulfur," and "welding fumes"—all other ways space explorers have described the smell of the great unknown—it fits in with the general theme of: unpleasantly pungent.

Researches say the distinctive smells have to do with the arrangement of particles as they move from areas without gravity to the controlled environments of spacecrafts. The aromas are the result of "high-energy vibrations in particles brought back inside which mix with the air," one researcher told The Atlantic.

Space also has an effect on astronauts' sense of smell, making it easier to smell dank scents, as astronaut Chris Hadfield describes in this video:

At least space's atmosphere doesn't have any negative effects on the sense of sight:

[Image: Flickr user Ciocci]

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  • Interesting article! This is similar to what you reference in the article, but I asked Astronaut and moonwalker Lt. Alan Bean this very question about a year ago and he said it smelled "like fireworks." This was not dissimilar from the National Geographic "Weird But True" answer: seared steak and hot metal -- or welding fumes as you say in this article. Alan Bean's explanation of the smell was similar to the one that you cited from the Atlantic. It went something like this: "Space actually smells like 'nothing' because it's a vacuum. However, from my experience, and the experience of other astronauts, it smells like fireworks. The explanation that I've come up with is that when we come back into the vessel and secure the doors, any materials such as rocks that might have attached themselves to our suits will oxidize when exposed to and mixed with the air inside the ship, thus emitting that scent." Interesting video and article...thanks!