WASHINGTON, NOVEMBER 8 (Reuters) – Oxygen makes up about 21% of Earth’s air, and the rest of our atmosphere is mostly nitrogen. And most living things, including humans, as we well know, need oxygen to survive.
Earth’s planetary neighbor Venus offers a very different story. Its thick and noxious atmosphere is dominated by carbon dioxide at 96.5%, with smaller amounts of nitrogen and trace gases. Oxygen is almost absent. In fact, because Venus has received far less scientific attention than other planets such as Mars, direct detection of its oxygen has remained elusive.
Using the SOFIA airborne observatory instrument, a Boeing 747SP aircraft converted into an infrared telescope in a joint project between NASA and the German Aerospace Center, scientists have now detected atomic oxygen in a thin layer between two other layers of Venus’ atmosphere. .
They noted that this atomic oxygen, which consists of one oxygen atom, is different from molecular oxygen, which consists of two oxygen atoms and is respirable.
For the first time, researchers have directly detected oxygen on the sunward side of Venus, where it is actually produced in the atmosphere, and also found it on the far side from the sun, where it has previously been observed on the ground. based telescope in Hawaii. Venus rotates much more slowly than Earth.
“The atmosphere of Venus is very dense. The composition is also very different from Earth,” said physicist Heinz-Wilhelm Hubers of the German Aerospace Center, lead author of the study published in the journal Nature Communications.
On the second planet, the thick atmosphere from the sun keeps the heat under a greenhouse effect.
“Venus is inhospitable, at least for organisms that we know from Earth,” Hubers added.
Oxygen is produced during the planet’s day by the sun’s ultraviolet radiation, which breaks down carbon dioxide and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere into oxygen atoms and other chemicals, the researchers said. Some of the oxygen is then carried by winds to the night side of Venus.
“This discovery of atomic oxygen on Venus is direct evidence for the action of photochemistry caused by the sun’s ultraviolet radiation and the transport of its products by the winds of the Venusian atmosphere,” said astrophysicist and study co-author Helmut Wiesemeier. Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Germany.
“The stratospheric ozone layer that protects our life on Earth is a well-known example of such photochemistry,” Wiesemeyer added.
Venus has a layer of clouds containing sulfuric acid up to about 40 miles (65 km) above the planet’s surface, with storm winds blowing in the opposite direction of the planet’s rotation. About 75 miles (120 km) above the surface, strong winds blow in the same direction as the planet’s rotation.
Oxygen was found to be concentrated between those two harsh layers at an altitude of about 60 miles (100 km). Oxygen temperatures were found to range from about minus 184 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 120 degrees Celsius) on the planet’s day side to minus 256 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 160 degrees Celsius) on its night side.
Previous methods used to detect Venus’ oxygen during the daytime were indirect, relying on measurements of other molecules in conjunction with photochemical models.
At about 7,500 miles (12,000 km) in diameter, Venus is slightly smaller than Earth. In our solar system, the Earth resides comfortably in the “habitable zone” around the Sun. the distance is considered neither too close nor too far from the star to host life, with Venus close to the inner limit and Mars close to the outer. edge
“We’re still at the beginning of understanding the evolution of Venus and why it’s so different from Earth,” Hubers said.
Reporting by Will Dunham Editing by Rosalba O’Brien
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