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Solar Wind Removed Water from Venus
October 13, 2009 18:47


Solar wind removed a significant amount of water from Venus’s atmosphere – this is what data from automatic interplanetary station “Venus-Express” revealed to astronomers. The probe also shed light on characteristic patterns of winds in the atmosphere of the brightest planet on our night sky.

The “Venus-Express” probe carries two scientific devices: SPICAV and VIRTIS. These devices are able to measure concentration of water vapours on heights between 10 and 100 kilometres, which is significantly higher than clouds usually are. Joint studies of Russian and Belgian scientists showed that heavy water/light water ratio in upper atmospheric layers is two times higher than that of lower atmospheric layers. Heavy water (D2O) contains heavy hydrogen isotope, known as deuterium. Molecules of heavy water on our planet are 5000 times less abundant than ordinary ware molecules (H2O).

Venusian atmosphere is extremely poor in water – if we manage to make all its water liquid, it will cover the planet’s surface with a layer, which is only several centimetres thick. However, astronomers tend to think that long time ago Venus’s atmosphere had much more water, which later either escaped to space, or has been removed by solar wind. Results, obtained by “Venus-Express” confirm assumptions of the researchers – heavy water doesn’t show a tendency to escape to space due to gravity force, that is why it should accumulate in upper atmospheric layers, which is exactly what the probe’s data have demonstrated. Venus could have had as much water as the Earth, collaborators form French LATMOS laboratory comment.



Venus's atmosphere
The VIRTIS device helped scientists to measure wind velocity at various heights in Venus’s atmosphere. Since top Venusian clouds (located at heights of about 70 kilometres) reflect light in both visible light and ultraviolet light range, we can observe processes, taking place on the plant’s surface, only at night in the infrared radiation, which escapes from surface and lower atmospheric layers to space via so-called “spectral windows”.

Scientists observed lower clouds for two years and found out that wind there was almost constant without being affected by seasonal changes or Sun’s position on Venusian sky. However, Basque researchers succeeded in detecting minor changes in wind velocity, especially at sub-polar latitudes, but they failed to find an explanation.

Winds on Venus blow at enormous velocities, reaching 400 kilometres per hour in upper equatorial atmospheric layers and 230 kilometres per hour in lower tropical atmospheric layers. However, all these winds are westerly or easterly winds. Scientists used to think that there were no southerlies or northerlies with an exception of weak (in terms of Venus) movements of gaseous masses at speed of 35 kilometres per hour from tropics to poles in upper atmospheric layers. However, sometimes clouds tend to move quite strangely – either southwards, or northwards – in a chaotic way with a vanishing resultant. Scientists hope that “Venus-Express” will help analysing these movements and understand why winds on Venus often blow much faster than the planet rotates.

Source: Science News

Kizilova Anna

Tags: Russian scientists Russian science space   

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