Venus’ thick, acid-rich clouds continue to shroud the neighboring planet in mystery.
Scientists have long wondered whether an intriguing light flashes recorded by previous Venus missions are evidence of lightning strikes on the planet. If these flashes actually represent lightning, future missions to the windy planet need to be designed so that they are powerful enough to survive lightning strikes, which are known to damage electronics here on Earth. Earth.
Moreover, lightning on Venus means that Earth’s cosmic neighbor would join the rare planetary club whose current members — Earth, Jupiter And Saturn – host lightning in their clouds. Such sparks of light would also be unique in the world in that they would exist despite the lack of water in Venus’s clouds, a substance considered essential for creating electrical charges.
So scientists are excited about the possibility of lightning on Venus – but so far the evidence has been circumstantial at best.
And now a new study suggests that lightning may be extremely rare on the planet. Instead, it offers the possibility that meteors burning in Venus’ atmosphere are most likely responsible for the bright flashes detected.
Assuming there is a similar number of meteors raining on Venus as seen on Earth, the team estimated the number of lightning strikes these space rocks should cause. The researchers then compared this data to flashes recorded in the planet’s atmosphere by two surveys: the Mount Bigelow Observatory in Arizona and the Japanese Venus Akatsuki orbiter, which has been orbiting our planetary neighbor since 2015.
The results showed that space rocks burning about 100 km from the surface of Venus “could be responsible for most, if not all, of the observed lightning strikes,” according to the study. “Lightning therefore does not appear to be a threat to missions that pass through or even linger in clouds.”
Data from previous Venus missions led by the United States, Europe and the former Soviet Union included signals that scientists had long interpreted as lightning and suspected they occurred even more frequently than those that erupt on Earth.
However, in the recent past, planets bound for Saturn Cassini and the sun Parker solar probe “We searched but failed to find radio signals from lightning” on Venus, the researchers wrote in the new study.
Studies like this are important for planning future missions to Venus, a widely considered effort long awaitedespecially since the recent detection of a possible active volcano on the planet’s surface shows that the world may still be geologically active.
If lightning truly poses a risk, probes that attempt to descend to the surface of Venus or those that float for months in its thick atmosphere will need protection while collecting valuable data.
Although there may still be flashes on the surface caused by volcanic eruptions, the new study finds that, overall, this is not a major concern for future missions.
Future probes that descend quickly into Venus’ atmosphere are safe, researchers say. Including NASAIt is DA VINCI (short for Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble Gases, Chemistry, and Imaging), which is expected to plunge into the planet’s atmosphere in the early 2030s.
For long-lived aerial platforms that hover in the planet’s clouds for about 100 Earth days or more, the study finds that a lightning strike is more likely to occur if the probe is located less than 90 km from the surface.
“However, such a moderate distance strike would perhaps seem more exciting than dangerous,” according to the new study.
This research is described in a paper published August 25 in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets.
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