Astronomers from the German Aerospace Center have detected signs of oxygen on Venus's dayside. While this isn't the oxygen we breathe but rather its highly reactive atomic form, it could unlock mysteries about the planet's turbulent past.
Using the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), researchers examined Venus's atmosphere and found atomic oxygen on both the day and night sides of the planet. This atomic oxygen, unlike the molecular oxygen we're familiar with, consists of single oxygen atoms, making it highly reactive.
Previous observations had only detected atomic oxygen on Venus's nightside, where it forms as a result of interactions between solar ultraviolet radiation and carbon dioxide molecules in the planet's thick atmosphere. However, this new discovery sheds light on the complex circulation patterns in Venus's atmosphere.
One layer of atomic oxygen exists between two opposing atmospheric currents in Venus's atmosphere. These currents, driven by hurricane-force winds, contribute to the distribution of atomic oxygen around the planet. The researchers noted a local enhancement of atomic oxygen near the terminator, the line separating day and night, possibly due to winds in this region.
Understanding Venus's atmosphere and the distribution of atomic oxygen could provide insights into why Earth and Venus, once potentially similar, evolved into drastically different worlds. While both planets share similarities in mass and composition, Venus's extreme temperatures and toxic atmosphere stand in stark contrast to Earth's habitable conditions.