Venus Express Discovers Venusian Ozone Layer

Article written: 8 Oct , 2011
Updated: 24 Dec , 2015


Every day brings on new discoveries and now ESA’s Venus Express spacecraft has delivered another… the red-hot planet has an ozone layer. Located high in the Venusian atmosphere, this planetary property will help us further understand how such features compare to Earth and Mars – along with refining our search for extra-terrestrial life.

This wonderful discovery was made while Venus Express was busy watching stars at the periphery. When seen through the planet’s atmosphere, the SPICAV instrument was able to distinguish gas types spectroscopically. By picking apart the wavelengths, ozone was detected through its absorption of ultraviolet light. It forms when sunlight breaks down the carbon dioxide molecules and releases oxygen. From there, they are distributed by planetary winds where the oxygen atoms will either combine into two-atom oxygen molecules, or form three-atom ozone.

“This detection gives us an important constraint on understanding the chemistry of Venus’ atmosphere,” says Franck Montmessin, who led the research.

This is an animation of Venus Express performing stellar occultation at Venus. Venus Express is the first mission ever to apply the technique of stellar occultation at Venus. The technique consists of looking at a star through the atmospheric limb. By analysing the way the starlight is absorbed by the atmosphere, one can deduce the characteristics of the atmosphere itself. Credits: ESA (Animation by AOES Medialab)

To date, ozone has been the sole property of Earth and Mars – but this type of discovery method could aid astronomers in searching for life on other worlds. Why is it important? Because ozone absorbs most of the Sun’s harmful ultra-violet rays… and because it is believed to be a by-product of life itself. When combined with carbon dioxide, this could create a signature as a strong signal for life. But don’t get too excited at the prospects, yet. The amount of ozone detected is also critical to refining models. It will need to be at least 20% of Earth’s value to even be considered.

“We can use these new observations to test and refine the scenarios for the detection of life on other worlds,” says Dr Montmessin.

While we know that chances are almost non-existent that Venus has life, it still brings it one step closer to planets like Mars and Earth.

“This ozone detection tells us a lot about the circulation and the chemistry of Venus’ atmosphere,” says Hakan Svedhem, ESA Project Scientist for the Venus Express mission. “Beyond that, it is yet more evidence of the fundamental similarity between the rocky planets, and shows the importance of studying Venus to understand them all.”

Original Story Source: ESA Space Science News.

6 Responses

  1. Torbjörn Larsson says

    Thanks; and I have to catch up on the Mars’ ozone.

    But it is Håkan Svedhem.

    (“Hakan” means ‘the chin’ in swedish. Now, it suits him, but it still looks funny since the name has quite another derivation. It’s from old norse Haakon, probably meaning “high son”.)

    HTML to the rescue: try &_aring_;. (Remove _’s.)

    • HeadAroundU says

      Yeah, like it’s a sure thing that we know that Mars has an ozone layer. What’s the story?

      What about Torbjorn? Metrosexual viking? :DDD are you a Lars’ son? :d

      • Torbjörn Larsson says

        Wasn’t metrosexuality like, the 00’s? Seems like the viking ages.

        Yes, Larsson, ‘son of a man from Laurentium’ (betraying the medieval influence) is a patronymikon that fixated, probably somewhere in the 19th century when those things became impopular.

        Btw, I grew up with a pair of neighbor siblings those families readopted the custom, but throw in the icelandic matronymikon custom too. That was somewhat confusing. (“What? You have different last names? Patronymikon _and_ matronymikon? But they are still spun off from your father’s name? … can I buy some logic to this family for 10 kronor, please?”)

  2. Tim Gomez says

    there is life on venus and mars, they are extremophiles, like the ones that live here…Oh and in the future when the sun expands, the heat will cause earth to die, but then mars will be a haven for all life. im serious

    • Torbjörn Larsson says

      You are assuming life got started there.* And it might.

      But the hardiest archaebacteria extremophiles are highly derivative, with a peculiar translation and membrane. They seem to have evolved out of bacteria somewhere just before the eukaryotic endosymbiosis between archaebacteria and the mitochondrion bacteria progenitor, and estimates put that been ~ 2.5 and ~ 1.5 Ga bp.

      The question becomes if extremophiles had time to develop and how likely such a robust product of evolution is. A priori it doesn’t seem very likely. When astrobiologists run the number game extremophiles shows the potentiality, but actual outcomes relies on the universe being vast. Narrowing down to specific planets the probabilities narrows drastically too.

      Mars hasn’t enough atmosphere or water to be “a haven” now, even less in some Ga hence. The hope is that there were life there early when conditions were better, and perhaps it survives beneath the deadly (UV sterilized, oxidizing) surface.

      * You are also relying on an airborne biosphere in the case of Venus, the surface is dry and heat sterilized beyond the reach of water biochemistry. That seems like a tenuous proposal.

  3. Anonymous says

    oh noes the craft are slicing Venus in half

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