October 6, 2011
Spacecraft Helps Discover Ozone Layer On Venus
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The European Space Agency's Venus Express spacecraft has discovered an ozone layer in the atmosphere of Venus.
The spacecraft made the discovery while watching stars from the edge of the planet seen through its atmosphere.
SPICAV, an instrument aboard Venus Express, analyzed the starlight and found characteristic fingerprints of gases in the atmosphere as they absorbed light.
ESA said the ozone was detectable because it absorbed some of the ultraviolet from the starlight.
"This detection gives us an important constraint on understanding the chemistry of Venus' atmosphere," Franck Montmessin, who led the research, said in a press release.
Ozone has previously only been detected in the atmosphere of Earth and Mars.
"This ozone detection tells us a lot about the circulation and the chemistry of Venus' atmosphere," HÃ¥kan Svedhem, ESA Project Scientist for the Venus Express mission, said in a statement.
"Beyond that, it is yet more evidence of the fundamental similarity between the rocky planets, and shows the importance of studying Venus to understand them all."
Venus' ozone layer sits at an altitude of about 62 miles, which is about four times higher in the atmosphere than Earth's.
ESA said astrobiologists believe that a planet's ozone concentration must be 20 percent of Earth's value before life should be considered as a cause of it.
"We can use these new observations to test and refine the scenarios for the detection of life on other worlds," Montmessin said in a press release.
Image Caption: Venus Express has two solar cell panels per wing comprising alternating rows of standard triple junction solar cells as well as highly reflective mirrors to reduce the operating temperatures. There is twice as much sunlight in Venus's orbit as there is in Earth's orbit, plus additional thermal input from the Venusian surface and atmosphere — 75% of sunlight being reflected up from it. In certain cases, this results in Venus Express receiving an equivalent of the thermal input from 3.5 Suns.
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