NASA Scientist Confirms Light Show on Venus
Venus is a hellish place of high temperatures and crushing air pressure.
The European Space Agency's Venus Express mission adds into this mix the
first confirmation that the Venusian atmosphere generates its own lightning.
The discovery is part of the Venus Express science findings that appear in a
special section of the Nov. 29 issue of the journal Nature.
"In addition to all the pressure and heat, we can confirm there is lightning on
Venus -- maybe even more activity than there is here on Earth," said Christopher
Russell, a NASA-sponsored scientist on Venus Express from the University of
California, Los Angeles, and lead author of one of the Nature papers. "Not a very
good place to vacation, that is for sure."
Image right: Artist concept of lightning on Venus.
Image credit: ESA
+ Higher resolution (315Kb)
The discovery puts Venus in elite planetary company. Scientists currently know
of only three other planetary bodies in the entire universe that generate lightning --
Earth, Jupiter and Saturn. Lightning on Venus -- as well as on any other planet --
is an important discovery because the electrical discharges drive the chemistry of
an atmosphere by breaking molecules into fragments that can then join with other
fragments in unexpected ways. The lightning on Venus is unique from that found on
Earth, Jupiter and Saturn in that it is the only lightning known that is not associated
with water clouds. Instead, on Venus, the lightning is associated with clouds of sulfuric acid.
Any future missions to the second rock from the sun may have to take into account the
electrical activity in the Venusian atmosphere.
The confirming measurements of the electrical discharges were made with data obtained
by the Venus Express magnetometer instrument provided by the Space Research Institute
in Graz, Austria. The measurements were taken once a day for two minutes, during a period
when the spacecraft was closest to Venus. A Venusian day is about 117 days long.
With its primary mission completed, Venus Express will now embark upon its extended mission
to watch Earth's nearest planetary neighbor for two more Venusian days. Among other things,
it will look for the telltale infrared radiation from lava flows. In 2010, when a Japanese
mission, Venus Climate Orbiter, also called Planet-C, arrives at Venus, scientists will
be able to compare results from the two spacecraft.
More than 250 scientists and engineers across Europe are involved in the Venus Express
mission, supported by their institutes and national space agencies. The mission also sees
the contribution of scientists from Russia and Japan, as well as from NASA, which sponsors
15 American Venus Express scientists and provides support to the radio science investigation
via its Deep Space Network antennas.
Related images and graphics are online at www.esa.int/venus
For information about NASA's contribution to Venus Express, visit http://www.venus.wisc.edu/index.html
For information about NASA and agency programs, visit http://www.nasa.gov
Media contact: DC Agle 818-393-9011
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
Dwayne Brown 202-358-1726
NASA Headquarters, Washington
Monica Talevi 011-31-71-565-3223
European Space Agency, Noordwijk, The Netherlands.