December 4, 2023

A surprising discovery in the atmosphere of Venus: German researchers find oxygen

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A view of Venus, which today resembles a burning inferno – but which may have once had a mild climate. © NASA/JPL

Venus, known as “Hell”, surprises with a discovery. Breakthrough could explain differences between Earth and its sister planet.

Stuttgart – German researchers have discovered clear evidence of the presence of atomic oxygen in the atmosphere of the planet Venus. Oxygen has already been discovered on the night side of the planet, and now it has also been discovered on the day side of Venus for the first time.

Venus has remarkable similarities to Earth: they are both about the same age, a similar size and probably composed of the same materials. However, there are also major differences between the two planets. Earth is a planet where life thrives: oceans filled with liquid water are rich with life, and living organisms are everywhere on Earth and in the air. Our blue planet’s atmosphere is rich in oxygen, which is an important aspect when it comes to life on planets.

Venus is a sister planet to Earth, but very different

However, the situation on Venus is different. The neighboring planet Earth is surrounded by a dense cloud layer of carbon dioxide, nitrogen and trace gases. There is what is called a “galloping greenhouse effect” on the planet itself – meaning a greenhouse effect that is self-reinforcing and cannot be stopped. In addition, there is a pressure of 92 bar at a temperature of more than 400°C. In short: life does not appear to be possible on Venus, The planet is referred to as “Burning Inferno.”.

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However, the study of the Earth-like planet is of great interest. After all, Earth could one day suffer a fate similar to Venus. Some scientists even doubt the possibility of life existing in the clouds of Venus. Some time ago, phosphine was discovered in the atmosphere of Planet A Controversial potential evidence of life.

‘Flying Observatory’ SOFIA took a closer look at Venus

The German research team that discovered oxygen in the atmosphere of Venus examined the planet using the SOFIA flying observatory. SOFIA was a joint project of the German Aerospace Center Space travel (DLR) and the American space organization NASA. The mission ended in September 2022, but the data collected is still being analysed.

The results were current In the specialized magazine nature published And show the presence of a layer of atomic oxygen in the atmosphere of Venus. Oxygen hides between two strong air currents: below 70 km, strong winds blow in the opposite direction of Venus’ rotation, and above 120 km, strong winds blow in the opposite direction. Atomic oxygen lies between these two flows. It is created by the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation from carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide in the atmosphere of Venus.

Observing Venus was difficult

SOFIA made the measurements that led to this exciting discovery in November 2021. “They were particularly difficult because Venus could only be observed by SOFIA for three days for about 20 minutes each and was only slightly above the horizon.” He remembers The study’s first author, Heinz-Wilhelm Hubers of DLR. The result is a map of the distribution of oxygen on Venus.

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A view of Venus, which today resembles a burning inferno – but which may have once had a mild climate.
A view of Venus, which today resembles a burning inferno – but which may have once had a mild climate. © NASA/JPL

“We were able to prove that oxygen is formed on the dayside of Venus, and that its concentration also decreases as solar radiation decreases,” Hubers explains. The researcher adds: “On the night side, the local increase in concentration indicates the enrichment of atomic oxygen as a result of wind currents.”

The oxygen concentration on Venus is lower than on Earth

The oxygen concentration in the atmosphere of Venus is about ten times lower than that of Earth. “Measuring these clear differences from Earth could contribute in the future to a better understanding of why Earth and its sister planet Venus evolved differently,” explains Bernhard Schulz, who participated in the SOFIA project. In the next few years, Venus will again be explored up close. NASA plans to send two space probes to the near-Earth planet. (unpaid bill)

Automated assistance was used in writing this article by the editorial team. The article was carefully examined by editor Tanya Banner before publication.