The NASA spacecraft flew near Venus last summer and detected a natural radio signal from Earth’s twin. This signal indicates that the probe has already traversed the upper atmosphere of Venus and was gathering its first direct reading in nearly 30 years.
Launched in 2018, the Sun Mission aims to study the sun and uncover some of its secrets. The probe has been moving through the sun’s atmosphere over a period of seven years and approaching the surface of our star closer than any spacecraft before.
Venus was instrumental in the success of the probe. The spacecraft uses the gravity of Venus as it oscillates around the planet, known as assisting gravity, to bend the orbit of the probe and bring it closer to the sun.
During one of these trips to Venus on July 11, 2020, the probe collected evidence that the upper atmosphere of Venus is undergoing some unusual changes that are affected by the solar cycle, or the sun’s 11-year cycle of activity.
The spaceship also captured an amazing photo showing an unexpected side of our planetary neighbor. This was Venus’ third gravitational aid for the Parker solar probe. In flight, the probe reached a distance of 833 kilometers from the planet’s surface.
The information Parker has gathered so far about Venus is helping scientists understand why they are so different from Earth, although the planets are often referred to as Gemini.
Both planets are rocky and similar in size, but something happened that caused Earth and Venus to evolve differently. Unlike Earth, Venus does not have a magnetic field. Its inhospitable surface has extremely flame retardant temperatures that can dissolve lead.
Attempts to study Venus with a spaceship are difficult because it can only survive for a few hours at the most when it tries to descend to the surface. Previous missions to explore Venus have included NASA’s pioneer Venus Orbiter from 1978 to 1992, and the European Space Agency’s Venus Express from 2005 to 2014, both of which orbit the planet.
Understanding why Venus changed in this way could help scientists determine why some Earth-like planets appeared habitable while others did not.
During the third voyage of Venus, the Parker Solar Probe FIELDS instrument, which measures electric and magnetic fields in the solar atmosphere, detected a low-frequency natural radio signal. This appeared as a “frown” on the data from the fields.
“I’ve been very excited to receive new data from Venus,” Glenn Collinson, lead study author and research partner at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in a statement. “To see Venus now, it’s all about these little glimpses.”
Collinson, a Venus expert who has studied data from previous missions on the planet, thought the signal was familiar. He previously worked on the Galileo orbiter, which examined Jupiter and its moons from 1995 to 2003.
Collinson notes that this kind of frown appears in the Galileo data as the spaceship passes the ionosphere of Jupiter’s moons.
Both Earth and Venus contain an ionosphere or an electrically charged gas layer in the upper part of the atmosphere. This plasma emits natural radio waves that can be picked up by instruments like Parker’s FIELDS.
Collinson and colleagues found that the probe touched the upper atmosphere of Venus during its July 2020 flight. The radio signal captured by FIELDS helped researchers calculate the ionosphere density of Venus. The last time the research team had access to this type of data, it was collected by the Pioneer Venus Orbiter in 1992.
At this time, the sun was nearing its peak solar activity or peak activity during the solar cycle.
During the flight in July after nearly 30 years, data were collected on the ionosphere six months after the sun’s minimum.
The data comparison revealed something scientists have long suspected: Venus’ ionosphere changes in response to the sun’s activity throughout its solar cycle.
The researchers found that the pink ionosphere is much thinner during the solar minimum than it is during the maximum.
Robin Ramstad, co-author of the study, and a postdoctoral fellow in the Laboratory of Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado said. Boulder in a statement.
Understanding how Venus reacts to the changes the Sun is undergoing can help scientists understand how the planet evolved. The ionosphere is leaking active gas into space, indicating that its atmosphere has changed over time.
“The goal of flying near Venus is to slow down the speed of the spacecraft so that the Parker solar probe can dive close to the sun,” said Noor Al-Rawafi, a scientist with the Parker Solar Probe project at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, in a statement. “But we will not miss the opportunity to collect scientific data and provide unique insights into a mysterious planet like Venus.”
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