ESA's Venus Express explores planet's poisonous atmosphere

Washington, Oct 8 (ANI): ESA's Venus Express has flown through the upper reaches of Venus' poisonous atmosphere with an aim of measuring the density of the upper polar atmosphere, an experiment that had never been attempted before at Venus.

The campaign has shown that the atmosphere high above the poles is a surprising 60percent thinner than predicted indicating that unanticipated natural processes are at work in the atmosphere.

A team led by Ingo Mueller-Wodarg of Imperial College, London, are currently investigating.

The density is critical information for mission controllers, who are investigating the possibility of driving the spacecraft even lower into the atmosphere in order to change its orbit and extend the lifetime of the mission.

"It would be dangerous to send the spacecraft deep into the atmosphere before we understand the density," says team member Pascal Rosenblatt, Royal Observatory of Belgium.

Venus' atmosphere extends from the surface up to an altitude of around 250 km. During April, Venus Express briefly skimmed down to 175 km above the planetary surface. The spacecraft has also registered a sharp density change from the day to the night side of the planet. Next week, Venus Express will go diving again, this time lowering itself to 165 km.

These measurements will be used eventually to help make changes to the orbit of Venus Express, halving the time it takes to circle the planet and providing new opportunities for additional scientific measurements.

"We couldn't see this region with our instruments because the atmosphere was too thin to register, but now we are sampling it directly," said Mueller-Wodarg. (ANI)

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