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Surprisingly Cold Region In The Atmosphere Of Venus Discovered

October 1, 2012

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MessageToEagle.com - Venus Express has spied a surprisingly cold region high in the planet’s atmosphere that may be frigid enough for carbon dioxide to freeze out as ice or snow.

The planet Venus is well known for its thick, carbon dioxide atmosphere and oven-hot surface, and as a result is often portrayed as Earth’s inhospitable evil twin.

But in a new analysis based on five years of observations using ESA’s Venus Express, scientists have uncovered a very chilly layer at temperatures of around –175ºC in the atmosphere 125 km above the planet’s surface.

The curious cold layer is far frostier than any part of Earth’s atmosphere, for example, despite Venus being much closer to the Sun.



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This artist’s concept of Venus, dated 2006, suggests the presence of lightning in the atmosphere. Credits: J. Whatmore


The discovery was made by watching as light from the Sun filtered through the atmosphere to reveal the concentration of carbon dioxide gas molecules at various altitudes along the terminator – the dividing line between the day and night sides of the planet.

Armed with information about the concentration of carbon dioxide and combined with data on atmospheric pressure at each height, scientists could then calculate the corresponding temperatures.



“Since the temperature at some heights dips below the freezing temperature of carbon dioxide, we suspect that carbon dioxide ice might form there,” says Arnaud Mahieux of the Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy and lead author of the paper reporting the results in the Journal of Geophysical Research.

Clouds of small carbon dioxide ice or snow particles should be very reflective, perhaps leading to brighter than normal sunlight layers in the atmosphere.



Click on image to enlarge

Three impact craters are displayed in this three-dimensional perspective view of the surface of Venus. The center of the image is located at approximately 27 degrees south latitude, 339 degrees east longitude in the northwestern portion of Lavinia Planitia. The viewpoint is located southwest of Howe Crater, which appears centered in the lower portion of the image. Credits: NASA/JPL


“However, although Venus Express indeed occasionally observes very bright regions in the Venusian atmosphere that could be explained by ice, they could also be caused by other atmospheric disturbances, so we need to be cautious,” says Dr Mahieux.

The study also found that the cold layer at the terminator is sandwiched between two comparatively warmer layers.



Click on image to enlarge

Sapas Mons is displayed in the center of this computer-generated three-dimensional perspective view of the surface of Venus. The viewpoint is located 527 kilometers (327 miles) northwest of Sapas Mons at an elevation of 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) above the terrain. Lava flows extend for hundreds of kilometers across the fractured plains shown in the foreground to the base of Sapas Mons. The view is to the southeast with Sapas Mons appearing at the center with Maat Mons located in the background on the horizon. Credits: NASA/JPL


“The temperature profiles on the hot dayside and cool night side at altitudes above 120 km are extremely different, so at the terminator we are in a regime of transition with effects coming from both sides.

“The night side may be playing a greater role at one given altitude and the dayside might be playing a larger role at other altitudes.”


Venus Express. Credits: ESA


Similar temperature profiles along the terminator have been derived from other Venus Express datasets, including measurements taken during the transit of Venus earlier this year.

Models are able to predict the observed profiles, but further confirmation will be provided by examining the role played by other atmospheric species, such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen and oxygen, which are more dominant than carbon dioxide at high altitudes.

“The finding is very new and we still need to think about and understand what the implications will be,” says Håkan Svedhem, ESA’s Venus Express project scientist.

“But it is special, as we do not see a similar temperature profile along the terminator in the atmospheres of Earth or Mars, which have different chemical compositions and temperature conditions.”

MessageToEagle.com

See also:
You'll Never See Venus Like This Again!

Mysterious Phenomenon: Arc of Venus

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