The big news right now is the ESA's Venus Express. Launched on November 9, 2005, the Venus Expressed probe entered Venus orbit in April 2006. The design of the probe is based on the Mars Express and its main goal is to study the atmosphere and clouds. The Venus Express is designed to look for the following:
- What causes the rapid atmospheric rotation?
- How does the cloud system work - evolution of the haze and origin of ultraviolet marks at cloud tops?
- What processes are responsible for the chemical composition of the atmosphere?
- Role of green-house effect on global climate
- What governs escape processes within the atmosphere?
- Are there water, CO2 or sulfuric acid cycles?
- What caused global volcanic resurfacing 500 million years ago?
- Why are some surface areas reflective with radar?
- Is there current volcanic or seismic processes?
Study of the Venusian atmosphere will greatly enhance our ability to understand the atmospheric processes here on Earth, and we will have a better understanding of how our atmosphere has evolved. We can also gather insight as to how Venus has evolved, and we can apply this knowledge to the overall evolution of our Solar System.
Images are available from the Venus Express image gallery.
Venus Express has been studying the atmosphere of Venus with great detail, and some sup rising results have been found. As with most observations, new questions are a result.
The infrared camera is used primarily for detail since Venus is so hot. Images of the southern pole has revealed a strange vortex.
This vortex is one of those new questions, but its believed to be similar to cyclones here on Earth. Residing just beyond the day-night border, this high-velosity vortex appears to be dynamic, changing in shape and size but continues to be a constant feature. What drives and keeps the vortex spinning is not clear.
Since Venus and Earth formed at the same time, and is the same size, it is though that Venus had equal amounts of water, but where did the water go? Certainly the heat generated by the runaway greenhouse effect would have boiled away the oceans, but this would simply changed the state of water from liquid to gas.
Because Venus has no magnetic field, there is no protection from solar wind. As a result, not only is the water molecule broken into its hydrogen and oxygen components, these atoms are being stripped away.
The magnetometer aboard the Venus Express is detecting hydrogen and oxygen molecules being stripped. Much more hydrogen is being stripped than oxygen. This changes the amount of hydrogen thought to have been in the atmosphere to at least twice as much.
Are there some new questions here? Of course! Why is there so much hydrogen? Strangely enough, more atoms are stripped on the nigh-time side than on the daylight side. This is yet another question resulting from observations of the atmosphere.
I can't wait to see what other mysteries unfold as Venus Express continues its observations!
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