While the International Space Station has a smell akin to that of a new car, what might you notice, hypothetically speaking that is, were you to ever open one of the station’s windows, not something I’d actually recommend of course, and have a whiff of open space?
The solar system’s odor may not be much to write home about, but other areas of the galaxy may make you feel like you’re at a barbecue… not that surprising really considering there’s billions of stars burning up stuff out there:
Allamandola explains that our solar system is particularly pungent because it is rich in carbon and low in oxygen, and “just like a car, if you starve it of oxygen you start to see black soot and get a foul smell.” Oxygen-rich stars, however, have aromas reminiscent of a charcoal grill. Once you leave our galaxy, the smells can get really interesting. In dark pockets of the universe, molecular clouds full of tiny dust particles host a veritable smorgasbord of odors, from wafts of sweet sugar to the rotten-egg stench of sulfur.
When certain smells evoke certain memories, usually from our distant past, it’s called the “Proustian phenomenon”, named after French novelist Marcel Proust, who died in 1922. But how effective are smells, or odours, when compared to other “triggers”, such as music, in the recalling of memories?
“It could be argued that a necessary implication of the Proust phenomenon is that odours are more effective triggers of emotional memories than other-modality triggers,” the researchers said. “Under such strong assumptions the results reported here do not confirm the Proust phenomenon. Nonetheless, our findings do extend previous research by demonstrating that odour is a stronger trigger of detailed and arousing memories than music, which has often been held to provide equally powerful triggers as odours.”
Understanding what generates the familiar – and slightly addictive – “old book smell” may help in efforts to preserve matured old tomes.
“The aroma of an old book is familiar to every user of a traditional library,” they wrote. “A combination of grassy notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness, this unmistakable smell is as much part of the book as its contents.”