A group of scientists sifted through the data beamed back by European Space Agency’s Venus Express probe and found that the Evening Star has a far stronger electric field than previously estimated. Researchers now believe that the electric field contributed to the lack of water in the planet’s atmosphere.
In a recent study, planetary scientists at the NASA’s Goddard Flight Space Center speculate that the strong electric field carried off the oxygen in the atmosphere, an element necessary for water.
Venus is extremely hostile to life, as it faces scorching temperatures from the Sun, it has an atmospheric pressure 90 times higher than the Earth’s, and it is constantly showered by sulfuric acid rains.
Furthermore, Venus has surface temperatures that can instantly melt lead, it lacks a magnetic field and prouds itself on an spiraling greenhouse effect.
But scientists suspect that the planet was once habitable. They believe that back in the distant past it had liquid water, but the rising temperatures evaporated it into the atmosphere.
Past research had thought that the oxygen and hydrogen molecules in the atmosphere were transported into empty space by solar winds. But the new study suggests that oxygen got lost because of “electric winds” produced by the planet’s incredible electric field.
Past research estimated that Venus’ electric field is less than 2V. New data from ESA’s Venus explorer spacecraft shows that the field is five time stronger: about 10 V. Scientists admitted that they erred because they had thought that planets with an atmosphere had a weak electric field.
Scientists explained that protons and ions are kept within a planet’s atmosphere by the gravitational pull. But electrons, which are less heavy, can easily escape the pull and get lost to space.
But as the electrons try to escape gravity they remain locked to positive protons and ions thus generating an electric field above the atmosphere. Yet, because Venus’ electric field is relatively strong, it can provide oxygen ions with sufficient energy to escape the gravitational tug and drift away into space.
So, scientists now believe that the solar winds are not the only culprits that stripped precious oxygen ions from the second planet from the Sun. Electric winds may have played a major part too.
Lead author Glyn Collinson acknowledged that the Venusian electric field is “much stronger” than scientists have ever dreamed of. In fact, it is powerful enough to nudge small particles such as atmospheric oxygen ions into the void.
Image Source: Wikimedia