Oxygen Found on Both Sides of Venus, What It Means for Future Missions

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For the first time, scientists have detected oxygen atoms in the atmosphere of Venus during the daytime.

This is a big deal because, until now, we’ve only seen oxygen on Venus’s night side.

These new findings show that oxygen is more common on Venus than we previously thought.

This discovery is crucial as space agencies plan future missions to explore Venus.

Why Is This Important?

Venus, Earth’s closest neighbor, has plenty of oxygen in its atmosphere.

Given that oxygen is the third most common element in the universe, its presence on Venus wasn’t a surprise.

Earlier missions revealed that Venus’s atmosphere is full of carbon dioxide (CO2) and carbon monoxide (CO), which contain oxygen.

However, finding atomic oxygen, which isn’t part of a larger molecule, is unusual because oxygen tends to react and combine with other elements.

Previously, the Venus Express satellite found some atomic oxygen glowing on Venus’s night side.

The new study shows that oxygen is much more widespread and gives insights into how it’s created and spread across the planet.

How Was It Found?

Professor Heinz-Wilhelm Hübers and his team from the German Aerospace Center used the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) to search for oxygen in Venus’s upper atmosphere.

They checked 17 different locations and found oxygen in all of them.

How Does Oxygen Form on Venus?

On Venus, sunlight breaks up CO2 and CO molecules, releasing oxygen atoms.

Venus’s powerful winds then sweep these atoms to the night side of the planet, where they form molecular oxygen (O2, like the oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere).

Despite this movement, there’s still more atomic oxygen on the day side—up to five times more.

Why Does This Matter?

Atomic oxygen plays a crucial role in Venus’s atmosphere.

When an oxygen atom hits a CO2 molecule, it gives the molecule energy, which is then released as radiation.

This process helps cool Venus’s upper atmosphere, preventing the planet from getting even hotter.

Where Is the Oxygen Found?

The atomic oxygen is concentrated about 100 kilometers (60 miles) above Venus’s surface.

On Earth, this altitude is where space begins, but Venus’s atmosphere is much thicker at this height.

The highest concentrations of oxygen are found between two major atmospheric circulation patterns: one below 70 kilometers (43.5 miles) and the other above 120 kilometers (74.6 miles).

Conclusion

Venus turns very slowly, with its day lasting longer than its year, and its high-altitude winds move faster than the planet’s rotation.

Understanding the presence and role of oxygen in Venus’s atmosphere helps us learn why Venus is so different from Earth and prepares us for future missions to explore this fascinating planet.


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