Thanks to ASU researchers, you can literally taste the stars.
The Five Senses in Space Project, a part of the ASU Interplanetary Initiative, inspired a new means of connecting the public to the latest astronomical research — through lip balm.
ASU professor and director of the School of Earth and Space Exploration, Lindy Elkins-Tanton, said the the goal of the initiative is to help ASU become a leader in future space exploration.
"We involve all disciplines and units from across the University," Elkins-Tanton said. "We do broad research projects around big questions like 'how do we galvanize the public about our space future?' That’s the big question that is driving the Five Senses in Space project.”
“My whole motive for what I do is to try to get space out of the upper chamber," Harrison said. "A lot of outreach tends to focus on people who were already interested in science.”
Developing new and unique outreach strategies is what gave birth to the idea for the lip balm.
The lip balm is called 'Center of the Galaxy' because it smells like Sagittarius B2, a gas cloud, or nebula, that is located near the center of the Milky Way Galaxy about 26,000 light years from Earth.
This lip balm brings the smell of space to anyone, no matter how many light years away.
Rick Gerkin, an assistant research professor in the School of Life Sciences, explained that the origins of this project date back to the beginning of human space exploration.
“A lot of astronauts reported a certain smell associated with space, so people wondered 'what is that smell?'" Gerkin said. "There’s not a lot out there in space but what could it be?”
ASU scientists, including Harrison, were able to identify the compound ethyl formate in Sagittarius B2.
“Ethyl formate, which is what gives raspberries their scent and rum its flavor, was a really easy thing for us to capture in a format that people can really experience," Harrison said. "It started as basically scratch-and-sniff that we passed out to people and that evolved into the lip balm.”
“If you look at the spectrum of electromagnetic radiation that passes through the nebula, you can tell what’s in the nebula based on what radiation gets to us,” Gerkin said.
This process is called spectrography and it’s used in a variety of fields including chemistry, medicine and astronomy.
The most interesting part of this project, Harrison said, is not the scientific implications, but the public engagement, which was the primary goal of the lip balm. Harrison said the fact that something like a lip balm that smells like space can appeal to so many people is exciting.
“No one will be able to travel to the center of the galaxy and smell this gas cloud themselves, so it brings something completely unique and intangible to a person in a way that makes it tangible," Harrison said.