Venus is a planet that melts anything that comes in contact, right? Not totally. Data from the first mission of the European Space Agency (ESA, its acronym in English) were analyzed and brought some fascinating information about the atmosphere of our closest neighbor. Some parts of Venus are very, very cold.
The Venus Express mission of ESA arrived at Venus in 2006 and was initially last only 500 days. But the probe has proved exceptionally useful and continued to explore the planet for the next eight years.
But one o’clock Venus Express ran out of fuel. And then, as with several other probes before her, she made a suicide dive on the surface of the planet. Venus Express has lost contact with Earth in November 2014, and now we can safely say that it melted, and became a junk puddle.
But before all this happened in July 2014, Venus Express held an important demonstration of technology. As he descended the polar regions of the planet, the probe was slowed by air resistance – a process known as “aerobraking.” Accelerometers board made accurate measurements of resistance, which were used by scientists to calculate air properties such as density and temperature.
“None of the Venus Express instruments were made for such atmospheric observations,” he explained Ingo Müller-Wodarg in a statement . ” I only realized in 2006 – after the release! – We could use the Venus Express spacecraft as a whole to do more science, “he explained the author of the study published in Nature Physics on the probe’s findings.
And the corner of Swan scientific spacecraft brought big surprises. To begin with, the polar atmosphere of the planet is much cooler and less dense than expected, with an average temperature of -157 degrees Celsius. As the ESA, it is cooler than in any corner of the Earth’s surface.
Furthermore, the polar region is dominated by strong atmospheric waves. These waves are more or less like ripples in a pond, but traveling vertically instead of horizontally. Atmospheric waves help shape the atmosphere of our planet, and they are partly responsible for the amazing haze layers encountered by the New Horizons Pluto . It is the first time we can measure them on Venus.
Finally, the suicide dive Venus Express demonstrated that aerobraking is an efficient way of making a controlled descent. The ExoMars mission of the space agency, which should arrive in October to Mars, will also use the technique to insert into a low-Earth orbit.
Particularly I love these studies remind us how little we know about the planets in our backyard. A few years ago, who would think of saying that the seemingly hot planet Venus has a cold polar atmosphere? Our nearest neighbor is also full of surprises.