A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. But what about in microgravity? Not so, according to a whimsical experiment performed back in the late nineties.

Related: We Know What Other Planets Smell Like, And It's Not All Pleasant

How NASA Rose To The Occasion

In 1998, the company International Flavors and Fragrances (IFF) came up with an unusual way to create a different fragrance: send a rose into space and find out what it smells like. Scientists already knew that microgravity changes the way plants grow and live, but nobody had ever looked into the way that gravity affects the fragrant compounds that a flower produces. The company approached NASA, and the partnership led to the modification of an existing space-based plant research facility so astronauts could sample and analyze essential oils from flowers. Then, they sent a single rose into orbit on the space shuttle Discovery.

Related: How Geneticists Are Recreating Extinct Smells

Scientists were expecting the rose to smell at least a little different due to the fact that gravity would no longer keep the flower's oils in its stem—this could lead to thousands of different oil combinations. The scent the rose produced in the end was astonishingly different. Scientists collected these new essential oils and brought a novel and decidedly otherworldly scent back to Earth.

Smell Like Outer Space

That's not the end of the story. IFF bottled and commercialized this new fragrance note, and you can actually buy products that contain it. A perfume, Shiseido Zen, and a body spray, Unilever Impulse, both contain whiffs of the space rose.

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Watch And Learn: Our Favorite Videos About Smells In Space

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Even if flowers made the same scents in space, astronauts probably couldn't smell them.

Written by Curiosity Staff January 10, 2017

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