A study conducted by researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder is utilizing NASA’s Parker Solar Probe to study the phenomenon of lightning on Venus, one of the most enigmatic and inhospitable planets in our solar system. This mission aims to resolve the long-standing debate about whether there are lightning storms on the second closest planet to the Sun.
During the probe’s fourth flyby near Venus in February 2021, the Parker Solar Probe detected “whistler waves,” which are energy pulses associated with lightning on Earth. However, the data collected suggests that these waves on Venus may not be caused by lightning but by disturbances in the planet’s weak magnetic fields.
Harriet George, the study’s lead author and a postdoctoral researcher at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP), explained that on Earth, whistler waves are often, but not always, produced by lightning. When lightning strikes, it disturbs electrons in the atmosphere, generating waves that travel into space and create whistling tones. Radio operators on Earth can listen to these tones through headphones, hence the name “whistlers.”
The researchers used the FIELDS Experiment on the Parker Solar Probe, which includes electric and magnetic field sensors, to track these signals. Interestingly, they observed that the whistler waves on Venus moved downward towards the planet instead of moving into space as would be expected during a lightning storm. The cause of this unusual downward movement, known as reverse whistlers, remains unclear. However, the researchers suspect that magnetic reconnection, a phenomenon involving the separation and reunion of twisted magnetic field lines around Venus, may be responsible for this anomaly.
This study sheds light on our limited understanding of our nearest planetary neighbor and highlights the immense complexity of planetary atmospheres. Further research is needed to uncover the secrets of lightning on Venus and deepen our knowledge of this enigmatic planet.
– Article: CU Boulder Study (found through search engines).
– Image: Getty Images.