After 40 Years, Scientists Say Venus May Not Have Lightning After All

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BOULDER, Colo. — Venus, typically dubbed Earth’s twin due to its comparable measurement, may not be as electrically charged as some have speculated. For almost 40 years, scientists have debated whether or not lightning strikes on Venus, however latest findings could lastly supply some readability. College of Colorado, Boulder researchers have found new information that means lightning could be a uncommon occasion on the second planet from the Solar.

“There’s been debate about lightning on Venus for near 40 years,” says examine lead writer Harriet George, a postdoctoral researcher on the Laboratory for Atmospheric and House Physics (LASP), in a university release. “Hopefully, with our newly out there information, we may help to reconcile that debate.”

What makes Venus so intriguing?

Venus, whereas being about the identical measurement as Earth, is vastly totally different by way of its environment. Its thick, carbon dioxide-rich environment triggers a runaway greenhouse effect, creating circumstances so intense that temperatures can attain as much as 900 levels Fahrenheit. This excessive warmth mixed with the planet’s excessive atmospheric pressures has made it unimaginable for spacecraft to final quite a lot of hours on Venus’ floor.

In a singular twist, CU Boulder scientists used NASA’s Parker Photo voltaic Probe, which was primarily designed to check the Solar, to assemble extra details about Venus. In February 2021, because the probe neared Venus, it detected a number of “whistler waves” – vitality pulses typically related to lightning on Earth.

Artist's depiction of the Parker Solar Probe flying past Venus
Artist’s depiction of the Parker Photo voltaic Probe flying previous Venus. (Credit score: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL)

After analyzing these whistler waves, researchers discovered one thing peculiar. As a substitute of transferring outward into area as lightning-induced waves do on Earth, Venus’ whistlers appeared to maneuver downwards in direction of the planet. This led researchers to take a position that these waves may not be a results of lightning however may stem from magnetic disturbances surrounding the planet.

What precisely are ‘whistler waves’?

On Earth, lightning can disrupt electrons within the environment, sending out waves into area. Early radio operators may hear these waves as a whistling sound utilizing headphones, incomes them the title “whistlers.”

If Venus had an identical sample, it may imply that the planet experiences lightning strikes about seven instances greater than Earth. It’s price noting that lightning has been noticed on different planets, together with Saturn and Jupiter.

Nevertheless, the precise origin of Venus’ whistlers stays unclear. One idea is that they could emerge from a course of known as “magnetic reconnection,” the place magnetic fields round Venus get tangled after which explosively re-align.

An image of Venus taken by NASA's Galileo spacecraft in 1990, shown in false color to highlight the sulfuric acid clouds swirling above the planet's surface
A picture of Venus taken by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft in 1990, proven in false coloration to focus on the sulfuric acid clouds swirling above the planet’s floor. (Credit score: NASA/JPL)

For a conclusive reply, scientists are eagerly awaiting the Parker Photo voltaic Probe’s subsequent flyby of Venus in November 2024.

“Parker Photo voltaic Probe is a really succesful spacecraft,” says examine co-author David Malaspina, assistant professor at LASP and the Division of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences. “In all places it goes, it finds one thing new.”

The 2024 mission will get nearer to Venus than ever earlier than, offering researchers with a singular probability to delve deeper into this longstanding thriller.

The examine is revealed within the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

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