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Venus: Scientists Directly Detect Oxygen in its Alien Atmosphere

Payam Javan: In a groundbreaking discovery, scientists aboard the SOFIA airborne observatory have directly detected atomic oxygen in the atmosphere of Venus. Unlike Earth’s atmosphere, which is rich in oxygen, Venus’s thick and noxious atmosphere is primarily composed of carbon dioxide. The researchers found a thin layer of atomic oxygen sandwiched between two layers of the Venusian atmosphere. This oxygen, produced on the planet’s day side by solar UV radiation, undergoes photochemical processes and is transported by winds to the night side. The findings provide crucial insights into Venus’s unique atmospheric composition and the action of photochemistry in its extreme environment.

The detection of atomic oxygen on both sides of Venus, including the side facing away from the sun, challenges previous indirect measurement methods. The researchers used the modified Boeing 747SP aircraft, equipped with an infrared telescope, to make direct observations. The Venusian atmosphere, with a dense and different composition compared to Earth, features layers of clouds containing sulfuric acid and hurricane-force winds. The detected oxygen is concentrated between these layers at an altitude of about 60 miles, with temperatures ranging from about minus 184 degrees Fahrenheit on the day side to minus 256 degrees Fahrenheit on the night side. This groundbreaking discovery sheds light on the complex dynamics of Venus’s atmosphere and marks a significant step in understanding the evolution of this inhospitable planet.

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