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Scientists have detected oxygen in the atmosphere of Venus

While this may be exciting news, Venus is still far from being a hospitable place for Earth organisms.
An image of the planet Venus made with data from the Magellan spacecraft and Pioneer Venus Orbiter.
Posted at 12:26 PM, Nov 09, 2023

While Venus is made up of about 96% carbon dioxide, scientists just discovered there's atomic oxygen in the planet’s atmosphere.

According to findings from a joint project between NASA and the German Aerospace Center published in Nature Communications, using an infrared telescope on the SOFIA airborne observatory, scientists found the presence of atomic oxygen on both Venus’ day and night sides.

Scientists say they discovered that atomic oxygen on Venus ranges between a chilly -178°F on the day side to an even cooler -252°F on the night side, estimating that the gas lingers around an elevation of approximately 100 kilometers, or about 62 miles.

In contrast to the familiar oxygen molecules we are used to on Earth, the oxygen found on Venus is composed of individual oxygen atoms, and it’s concentrated in a narrow layer nestled between two layers of clouds with sulfuric acid.

"This detection of atomic oxygen on Venus is direct proof for the action of photochemistry — triggered by solar UV radiation — and for the transport of its products by the winds of Venus's atmosphere," said the study’s co-author, Helmut Wiesemeyer. “On Earth, our life-protecting stratospheric ozone layer represents a well-known example of such photochemistry."

While the detection of oxygen in Venus’ atmosphere could reveal insights into its history and possible life, more research is required to grasp the oxygen's origin, distribution, and impact on the overall atmosphere. As of now, Venus is still far from being a hospitable place for Earth organisms.

"The Venus atmosphere is very dense. The composition is also very different from Earth," said the lead author of the study, Heinz-Wilhelm Hübers. 

Venus is the closest planet to Earth, and while a bit smaller, it's very close in size and often referred to as Earth's twin due to their various similarities. But Earth is in a way better spot around the sun for potential life, called the "habitable zone."

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