Venus Flyby Reveals Low-Frequency Radio Signal Detected in The Planet’s Atmosphere

by akoloy

During a detailed flyby of the planet Venus in July 2020, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe detected one thing odd.

As it dipped simply 833 kilometers (517 miles) above the Venusian floor, the probe’s devices recorded a low-frequency radio sign – a telltale signal that Parker had skimmed via the ionosphere, a layer of the planet’s higher environment.


This was the primary time an instrument had been capable of report direct in situ measurements of Venus’ higher environment in almost three many years, and the information recorded offers us a brand new understanding of how Venus modifications in response to cyclic modifications within the Sun.

“I was just so excited to have new data from Venus,” said astronomer Glyn Collinson of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

Venus is an interesting world to us right here on Earth. It’s so just like our personal planet in measurement and composition, however so crucially totally different: a poisonous, scorching sizzling hell-world that’s doubtless utterly inhospitable to life as we all know it.

How the 2 planets might have developed into such radically totally different beasts is of deep curiosity to planetary scientists and astrobiologists trying to find different liveable worlds on the market within the Milky Way.

Yet missions to discover Venus have been comparatively few. There’s not a lot level sending landers; they can not survive the planet’s 462 diploma Celsius (864 diploma Fahrenheit) floor.

Sending orbiting probes can also be thought of problematic, as a result of extremely thick environment of carbon dioxide and sulfuric acid rain clouds that make it onerous to inform what’s occurring on the floor.


For these causes, Venus hasn’t been a preferred goal for devoted missions in a while (Japan’s Akatsuki orbiter being the latest exception), and a variety of our latest information has come piecemeal, from devices with different major aims, just like the Parker Solar Probe.

As Parker conducts its mission to check the Sun in shut element, it has been utilizing Venus for gravity help maneuvers – slingshotting across the planet to change velocity and trajectory. It was on one among these gravity help flybys that the probe’s devices recorded a radio sign.

Collinson, who has labored on different planetary missions, famous an odd familiarity that he could not fairly place within the form of the sign.

“Then the next day, I woke up,” he said. “And I thought, ‘Oh my god, I know what this is!'”

It was the identical type of sign recorded by the Galileo probe when it skimmed via the ionospheres of Jupiter’s moons – a layer of environment, additionally seen on Earth and Mars, the place photo voltaic radiation ionizes the atoms, leading to a charged plasma that produces low-frequency radio emission.

Once the researchers realized what the sign was, they have been in a position to make use of it to calculate the density of the Venusian ionosphere, and evaluate it to the final direct measurements taken, all the way in which again in 1992. Fascinatingly, the ionosphere was an order of magnitude thinner within the new measurements than it was in 1992.

The staff believes that this has one thing to do with photo voltaic cycles. Every 11 years, the Sun’s poles swap locations; south turns into north and north turns into south. It’s not clear what drives these cycles, however we do know that the poles change when the magnetic discipline is at its weakest.


Because the Sun’s magnetic discipline controls its exercise – comparable to sunspots (non permanent areas of robust magnetic fields), photo voltaic flares, and coronal mass ejections (produced by magnetic discipline strains snapping and reconnecting) – this stage of the cycle manifests as a interval of very minimal exercise. It’s referred to as the photo voltaic minimal.

Once the poles have switched, the magnetic discipline strengthens, and photo voltaic exercise rises to a photo voltaic most earlier than subsiding once more for the subsequent polar change.

Measurements of Venus from Earth instructed that Venus’ ionosphere was altering in sync with the photo voltaic cycles, rising thicker at photo voltaic most and thinner at photo voltaic minimal. But with out direct measurements, it was troublesome to verify.

Well, guess what? The 1992 measurement was taken at a time near photo voltaic most; the 2020 measurement near photo voltaic minimal. They have been each per the Earth-based measurements.

“When multiple missions are confirming the same result, one after the other, that gives you a lot of confidence that the thinning is real,” said astronomer Robin Ramstad of the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Exactly why the photo voltaic cycle has this impact on Venus’ ionosphere is unclear, however there are two main theories.


The first is that the higher boundary of the ionosphere could possibly be compressed to a decrease altitude throughout photo voltaic minimal, which prevents atoms ionized on the day facet from flowing to the evening facet, leading to a thinner evening facet ionosphere. The second is that the ionosphere leaks into house at a quicker price throughout photo voltaic minimal.

Neither of those mechanisms could possibly be dominated out by the Parker information, however the staff hopes that future missions and observations would possibly be capable to make clear what is going on on. In flip, that might assist us achieve a greater understanding of why Venus is the way in which it’s, in comparison with Earth.

Maybe it is about time for an additional Venus mission, eh?

The analysis has been printed in Geophysical Research Letters.

Credit for prime picture: Venus throughout Parker’s July 2020 flyby. (NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Naval Research Laboratory/Guillermo Stenborg and Brendan Gallagher)


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