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Venus Express Detects Water Vapour in Low Altitude Clouds

Article written: 4 Feb , 2008
Updated: 26 Dec , 2015
by

There’s a real advantage to having a spacecraft orbit a planet for days, months and even years. You have lots and lots of time to really pull in the science. And now, almost 2 years into its visit at our evil twin planet, ESA’s Venus Express has been able to map the planet’s atmosphere at lower altitudes, searching for chemicals that will help scientists understand the planet’s global climate and weather systems.

The planet’s clouds block the visible light from escaping the surface, but other wavelengths, such as infrared, do escape. Since temperatures can reach 200 degrees C at an altitude of 35 km, and more than 450 C at the surface, infrared – or heat – pours out, going right through the clouds. This radiation can then be analyzed to see the chemicals present.

ESA’s Venus Express spacecraft is equipped with a special instrument called the VIRTIS spectrometer, which can measure the atmosphere at various altitudes. It’s already mapped the high altitude clouds, and now VIRTIS has spent the last few orbits mapping the lower atmosphere.

Of course, like the rest of Venus’ atmosphere, the lower altitude clouds are dominated by carbon dioxide – the greenhouse gas that traps the heat in, raising temperatures. VIRTIS also detected carbon monoxide, a chemical that scientists weren’t expecting to see at such low altitudes.

Since carbon monoxide is so rare, scientists can use this as a way to trace global winds that cycle across the planet – sort of like dropping ink into water to study turbulence. VIRTIS was able to determine the large-scale circulation of winds as they rise at the equator and then move north and south towards the poles. Once at the poles, the winds lose altitude again, and circulate back to the beginning.

Venus Express has also detected and mapped the amount of water vapour in the lower atmosphere with high resolution. Since this molecule is so difficult to detect, this has ended a scientific debate about how much there is on Venus.

Original Source: ESA News Release


8 Responses

  1. pantzov says

    that’s great news. the venus express is paying off nicely so far. so much more to come… 🙂

  2. Danzio says

    Probes rule!
    No one gets hurt!
    They can stay till the cows come home.
    And . . . Ummm . . .
    They’re cool!

    Yeah, Baby!
    Fantastic!

  3. Peter K says

    Is this just PURE scientific interest? Are we hoping to make some use of Venus? And how about Mercury? It’s nice to see its craters up close but usually there is a slightly less altruistic plan in place for going there. Anyone?

  4. SVEN says

    The only way we can truly know how the Universe and Solar System came to be is to study all the nuances around us. The greenhouse effect from Venus can give us a clear “what we can’t let happen” and figuring out why Mercury has so much mass and magnetic field for such a small rock will benefit searching for Exoplanets everywhere.

    The only wasted trip to the Cosmos is the one not taken…. or the one that is riddled with poor thought out designs and experiments. I do think we can prioritize their importance a little better. Like concentrate more on the Moon Base right now before the next president comes in and rapes the NASA budget just to un-do as much of G-Dubya’s goals as possible. We really need to stick to his Space Program’s plan as close as possible. As soon as they start cutting it up, our feeble Public attention span will kill it for another 40 YEARS!!

  5. Steve says

    I agree Sven!!

    What can we Space enthusiasts do to try and keep the next administration committed to the current Moon and Mars program??
    The fact that Helium 3 is abundant on the Moon (as well as Titanium and a water source too!) and Helium 3 could be the energy source of the future that gets ALL OF US out from under the grasp of the Middle East oil CRAP…. This alone should speed up the new Race to the Moon! Make no mistake…. It is a new race, whether we are in it this time or not!!
    We should partner with Russia to offset development hurdles and costs. Russia is chomping at the bit to get up and running. Who better to partner with than the two that started it all!!!
    Think about it….. Tell the Middle East to pound salt and let them kill each other all they want!! All that money spending at home for the children, the elderly and poor!!!
    What a concept??? The Middle East buying ALL THEIR energy from us!!!! Thus we can take care of our own and there we will be – taking care of our own!

  6. Raymond says

    Steve
    I agree with you tremendously. What a concept Russia and us teaming up together and making this work out. Our grandfathers would be rolling around in there grave just to see this happen. Great idea

  7. Kevin Koski says

    Going to mine the moon is be thought out do we have that right,and nothing will happen with that or solar energy till we get the big ioimen to see the future and not profit,and get the public interest,because the crowd is a fickle beast and only worry about the next gas tank to get them down the road its a me generation and a damn shame

  8. How to Get Six Pack Fast says

    This is very up-to-date info. I think I’ll share it on Digg.

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