Could ‘Heavy Metal’ Frost Lurk Beneath Venus’ Hothouse Clouds?

Article written: 21 Oct , 2014
Updated: 23 Dec , 2015
by

Talk about using old data for a new purpose! Researchers re-examining information from the completed NASA Magellan mission found signs of what could be “heavy metal” frost on the hell-like surface. What the researchers saw in radio-wave reflectance is the highlands appear brighter, with dark spots in the tallest locations.

What substance exactly is causing the patches on the surface is unknown, and it is extremely hard to make predictions given the difficulty of simulating Venus’ 900-degree Fahrenheit (500-degree Celsius) surface temperature, which is also 90 times Earth’s air pressure at sea level.

“Like on Earth, the temperature changes with elevation,” stated Elise Harrington, an Earth sciences undergraduate at British Columbia’s Simon Fraser University who led the research. “Among the possibilities on Venus are a temperature dependent chemical-weathering process or heavy metal compound precipitating from the air – a heavy metal frost.”

Venus' volcano Sapas Mons, which was imaged by the Magellan mission in 1991. Credit: NASA

Venus’ volcano Sapas Mons, which was imaged by the Magellan mission in 1991. Credit: NASA

Scrutiny of a previously examined area on Venus, the Odva Regio highlands, saw a low radar reflection at 2,400 meters (7,900 feet), which progressively gets brighter until dark spots begin appearing and reflections drop at 4,700 meters (15,400 meters).

While previous research spotted a few of these patches, Harrington and supervisor Allan Treiman (Lunar and Planetary Institute) saw hundreds. There’s no radar-imaging spacecraft in orbit around Venus right now, but the authors hope that the finding will generate more interest in this planet. (Of note, the European Space Agency’s Venus Express is finishing up a mission there now, which included several daring atmosphere-skimming maneuvers earlier this year.)

The research was presented at the Geological Society of America meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Source: Geological Society of America


3 Responses

  1. FarAwayLongAgo says

    The IAU has declared that Venus is not a planet (or so it seems…) Why care about the most Earth like and nearest planet?

    This UT-article is about yet another “don’t know”-hypothesis which only deepens the mystery. Even the “old truth” that Venus suffered from a runaway greenhouse gas effect is questioned! Maybe it started out much warmer because of water vapor which later escaped into space and cooled it down?

    Here’s a “we don’t know”-talk about Venus by Dave Stevenson at KISScaltech:

    • Member

      A) “IAU has declared that Venus is not a planet ” = “What”?
      B) How is it Earth like? Titan is far more Earth like a world than Venus, though it is another Planet’s satellite. Mars even with it’s now known history of a hydrologic alluvial system is more so. Similar sizes, sure, but elsewise?
      C) “Even the “old truth” that Venus suffered from a runaway greenhouse gas effect is questioned” = “By who”?
      D) “Maybe it started out much warmer because of water vapor which later escaped into space and cooled it down?” ~ Do you mean that Venus started out even hotter than 900 degrees F and cooled down to this because it lost water vapor? If so, think about that for a moment.

      Cheers!

  2. Tony Mach says

    Bright =
    Diffuse reflective material

    Dark =
    Non-reflective material
    OR
    Specular reflective material (aka a mirror)

    Could these dark spots be heavy metal lakes?

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