Astronomers confirm lightning on Venus

By Xinhua

Washington : Astronomers working at the European Space Agency’s Venus Express mission confirmed for the first time that the Venusian atmosphere generates its own lightning.

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The discovery — a part of the Venus Express science findings – appeared on the Nov 29 edition of the journal Nature.

“In addition to all the pressure and heat, we can confirm there is lightning on Venus, maybe even more activity than there is on Earth,” said Christopher Russell, a NASA-sponsored scientist on Venus Express from the University of California and lead author of one of the Nature papers.

The discovery puts Venus in elite planetary company. Scientists currently know of only three other planetary bodies in the entire universe that generate lightning — Earth, Jupiter and Saturn.

Lightning on Venus — as well as on any other planet — is an important discovery because the electrical discharges drive the chemistry of an atmosphere by breaking molecules into fragments that can then join with other fragments in unexpected ways.

Any future missions to Venus may have to take into account the electrical activity in its atmosphere.

The lightning on Venus is different from that found on Earth, Jupiter and Saturn since it is the only lightning known that is not associated with water clouds. Instead, on Venus, the lightning is associated with clouds of sulphuric acid.

The measurements of the electrical discharges were made with data obtained by the Venus Express magnetometer.

With its primary mission completed, Venus Express will now embark upon its extended mission to watch Earth’s nearest planetary neighbour for two more Venusian days. A Venusian day is about 117 earth days long.