Oferte Emag

New map hints at Venus' wet, volcanic past

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Venus Express has charted the first map of Venus’ southern hemisphere at infrared wavelengths. The new map hints that our neighbouring world may once have been more Earth-like, with a plate tectonics system and an ocean of water.

The map comprises over a thousand individual images, recorded between May 2006 and December 2007. Because Venus is covered in clouds, normal cameras cannot see the surface, but Venus Express used a particular infrared wavelength that can see through them.

Although radar systems have been used in the past to provide high-resolution maps of Venus’ surface, Venus Express is the first orbiting spacecraft to produce a map that hints at the chemical composition of the rocks. The new data are consistent with suspicions that the highland plateaus of Venus are ancient continents, once surrounded by ocean and produced by past volcanic activity.

“This is not proof, but it is consistent. All we can really say at the moment is that the plateau rocks look different from elsewhere,” says Nils Müller at the Joint Planetary Interior Physics Research Group of the University Münster and DLR Berlin, who headed the mapping efforts.

The rocks look different because of the amount of infrared [...]

Water On Venus

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Venus Express has made the first detection of an atmospheric loss process on Venus’s day-side. Last year, the spacecraft revealed that most of the lost atmosphere escapes from the night-side. Together, these discoveries bring planetary scientists closer to understanding what happened to the water on Venus, which is suspected to have once been as abundant as on Earth.

The spacecraft’s magnetometer instrument (MAG) detected the unmistakable signature of hydrogen gas being stripped from the day-side. “This is a process that was believed to be happening at Venus but this is the first time we measured it,” says Magda Delva, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Graz, who leads the investigation.

Thanks to its carefully chosen orbit, Venus Express is strategically positioned to investigate this process; the spacecraft travels in a highly elliptical path sweeping over the poles of the planet.

“At Venus, the solar wind strikes the upper atmosphere and carries off particles into space. Planetary scientists think that the planet has lost part of its water in this way over the four and a half thousand million years since the planet’s birth.”

Water is a key molecule on Earth because it makes life possible. With Earth and Venus approximately [...]

One year at Venus, and going strong

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One year has passed since Venus Express, Europe’s first mission to Venus and the only spacecraft now in orbit around the planet, reached its destination. Since then, this advanced probe, born to explore one of the most mysterious planetary bodies in the Solar System, has been revealing planetary details never caught before.

Intensively visited by several Russian and American probes from the 1960s to the early 1990s, Venus has always represented a puzzling target for scientists worldwide to observe. Venus Express, designed and built in record time by ESA, was conceived with the purpose of studying Venus – unvisited since 1994 – in the most comprehensive and systematic way ever, to provide a long-due tribute to a planet so interesting, yet cryptic.

Using state-of-the-art instrumentation, Venus Express is approaching the study of Venus on a global scale. The space probe is collecting information about Venus’ noxious and restless atmosphere (including its clouds and high-speed winds, as seen from this video obtained with the VMC camera on board) and its interaction with the solar wind and the interplanetary environment. Last but not least, it is looking for signs of surface activity, such as active volcanism.

“During one year of [...]

Double vortex at Venus South Pole unveiled

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ESA’s Venus Express data undoubtedly confirm for the first time the presence of a huge ‘double-eye’ atmospheric vortex at the planet’s south pole. This striking result comes from analysis of the data gathered by the spacecraft during the first orbit around the planet.

On 11 April this year, Venus Express was captured into a first elongated orbit around Venus, which lasted 9 days, and ranged between 350 000 and 400 kilometres from Venus’ surface. This orbit represented for the Venus Express scientists a unique opportunity to observe the planet from large distances. This made it possible to obtain first clues about the Venusian atmospheric dynamics on a global scale, before the spacecraft got closer and started observing the planet in greater detail.

During this first orbit – called the ‘capture orbit’ – some of the Venus Express instruments were used to perform the first observations at different distances from Venus, for a few hours per time on six different slots between 12 and 19 April 2006.

Amazing infrared, visible and ultraviolet images of the Venusian globe already reveal several atmospheric features of great interest. The most striking of these is a huge, double-eye atmospheric vortex over the south [...]