Strong Electric Wind Has Stripped All Water From Venus’s Atmosphere

Posted: Jun 21 2016, 4:19am CDT | by , Updated: Jun 21 2016, 9:18pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News


Strong Electric Wind Has Stripped All Water from Venus’s Atmosphere
Artist's impression of electric wind at Venus. Credit: NASA/Goddard/Conceptual Image Lab, Krystofer Kim

New research suggests that electric wind is likely a major reason why Venus has virtually no water and oxygen.

Venus is the second closest planet to the Sun and is the brightest object in the night sky apart from the moon. Hellish temperature, extreme pressure and an atmosphere enriched with carbon dioxide all make it an inhabitable planet. 

But these are not the only factors that are making Venus a planet unsuitable to support life. New research adds one more thing to the list and it is the strong ‘electric wind’ that blows over the upper atmosphere of the planet. Venus’s electric wind is so strong that it has stripped all the water from its atmosphere, leaving the planet virtually free of oxygen. 

Scientists believe that all planets with atmosphere are surrounded by electric fields as well. Planets get their electric field from circulating electric currents in the upper atmosphere called ionosphere and these electric fields out there are generally quite weak. On Earth, this layer of electric field is extremely week, about 1 or 2 volts. Venus’s electric field, on the other hand, is about 10 volts strong and capable of producing strong winds that can carry away oxygen ions right out of the atmosphere before it can join hydrogen ions and form water.

Since Venus is fairly close to the Sun, it might have enabled planet to blow winds with a force similar to solar winds but there can be other explanations too.

“It’s amazing and shocking,” said Glyn Collinson, a scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. “We never dreamt an electric wind could be so powerful that it can suck oxygen right out of an atmosphere into space. This is something that definitely has to be on the checklist when we go looking for habitable planets around other stars.”

Venus is almost similar to Earth in terms of both size and gravity and evidence suggests that it once had oceans of waters on its surface as well. But the water boiled away long time ago as the temperature of the planet touched extreme heights of around 860 degrees Fahrenheit. Now, Venus contains 10,000 to 100,000 times less water than the Earth’s atmosphere. 

Venus’s electric field was discovered using the NASA-SwRI-UCL electron spectrometer. NASA’s MAVEN mission, which is currently orbiting Mars, have observed similar kind of process in Mars as well. Mars was also believed to have water on its surface but has lost both water and its atmosphere now.

“We've been studying the electrons flowing away from Titan and Mars as well as from Venus, and the ions they drag away to space to be lost forever,” said co-author, Professor Andrew Coates of the University College London. “We found that over 100 metric tons per year escapes from Venus by this mechanism – significant over billions of years. The new result here is that the electric field powering this escape is surprisingly strong at Venus compared to the other objects. This will help us understand how this universal process works.”

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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