ESOF 2016 – What do you think a comet smells like?
July 27, 2016

Europlanet has had a busy time at the EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF) 2016 in Manchester!

We’ve been asking two important questions:

What do you think a comet smells like?


Worked metal and fried meat. Old Chanel. Carbon. The Jorvik Viking Centre. Cut grass. Talcum powder. A car air freshener that’s been run over by a truck. Chalky. Stables. Sandalwood. Plasticine. Musty. Dodgy aftershave. Toilet paper. Patchouli. The London Dungeon. Dust. Burnt essence. Indian Ashram. Toilet cleaner. Coal. Old felt toy. Incense. Earthy. Cat litter tray. Air-bag packaging. Hand wipes. Horse poo. Old-fashioned soap. Rotten animals. Playdoh…

We’ve had a huge and very varied response to our smelly comet postcards. The mass spectrometer instruments on Rosetta and Philae measured the chemical composition of the comet. It is mostly:

  • H2O (water)
  • CO (carbon monoxide)
  • CO2 (carbon dioxide)
  • H2S (hydrogen sulphide)
  • NH3 (ammonia)
  • CH2O (formaldehyde)
  • CH3OH (methanol)
  • SO2 (sulphur dioxide)

Rosetta has discovered many other rare molecules in the comet, including amino acids that are the building blocks of proteins and all life on Earth.

As well as telling people about Europlanet, our ‘Europe Goes to the Planets’ stand featured other planetary projects, including UPWARDS, AstRoMap, Space Awareness, EURO-CARES, Small Bodies Near and Far, NEOShield-2, ODYSSEUS II, PPOSS, European Astrobiology Campus and the Twinkle space mission. Follow the links to find out more about them!

Do you want to join my space race?


We were invited to talk at the Bluedot Festival on Saturday 23rd July at Jodrell Bank, as part of the “ESOF Presents…” lineup. In a taster for our panel discussion on the democratisation of space, we gave a quick sprint through the ways that entrepreneurs, scientists, amateur astronomers, citizen scientists and members of the public are developing their own space missions, analysing data from international missions and finding new ways of exploring the final frontier.  Projects we touched on include the Google Lunar XPRIZE competition to the Moon, amateur observations of Jupiter in support of the Juno, and the independent Twinkle space mission to characterise the atmosphere of exoplanets.

On Tuesday 26th July, we held an interactive round-table session at ESOF in Manchester Central Conference Centre: Do you want to join my space race? The democratisation of the final frontier.


Our panellists were:

  • Prof Alan Wells, Vice Chair of the Google Lunar XPRIZE Judging Panel
  • Eike Kircher, Deputy Head of the Technology Office and Head of the Basic Technology Research Programme (TRP) at the European Space Agency’s Directorate of Technical & Quality Management
  • Dr Amara Graps, University of Latvia and Planetary Science Institute and Deep Space Industries Latvia
  • Dr Marcell Tessenyi, Project Manager of the Twinkle Space Mission, CEO of Blue Skies Space Ltd
  • Dr Sarah Roberts, Education Director of the Faulkes Telescope Project

It was an extremely interesting discussion and many thanks to them all for their time and contributions!

We look forward to ESOF 2018 Toulouse!