NASA's Parker Solar Probe uncovers new data on Venus' atmosphere

May 3 (UPI) -- A radio signal detected NASA's Parker Solar Probe flew through Venus' upper atmosphere, uncovering the first new data in nearly 30 years, a study showed Monday.

The study, published Monday in Geophysical Research Letters, was based on NASA's Parker Solar Probe's third Venus flyby on July 11, 2020.


During the third flyby, the probe detected a natural, low-frequency radio signal, showing the spacecraft had flown through Venus' electrically charged upper atmosphere, called the ionosphere, and helping scientists with the first direct measurement of its atmosphere in nearly 30 years, SciTechDaily reported.

"I was just so excited to have new data from Venus," the study's lead scientist Glyn Collison, a space explorer at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, told SciTechDaily.

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The Parker Solar Probe's instrument FIELDS, named for the electric and magnetic fields it measures in the Sun's atmosphere, was closest to Venus during the 7 minutes when the radio emission was detected, according to the study.

A YouTube video attached to the SciTechDaily article from NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio showed data sonification that translates data from the Parker Probe's FIELDS instrument into sound.


The study compared Venus to Earth, which similarly has an electrically charged layer of gas at the upper edge of its atmosphere, which naturally emits radio waves.

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Scientists have often thought Earth's magnetic field is needed for life's existence, "as it shields our atmosphere from being stripped away to space," and expected the same would be true for Venus, according to the study's analysis.

But recent studies showed the opposite, prompting need for measurements to investigate the paradox. Scientists used the measurements from Venus' ionosphere to support the theory that the ionosphere of Venus varies substantially over the 11-year solar cycle.

The last direct measurement of Venus' ionosphere was in 1992 from Pioneer Venus Orbiter. At the time, the Sun was at the solar maximum.

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Since then, data from ground-based telescopes showed that while the bulk of Venus' atmosphere remained the same during the solar minimum, the ionosphere at the top where gases escape into space was much thinner.

The Parker Solar Probe's measurements taken during the solar minimum confirmed that Venus' ionosphere is much thinner than measurements taken during the solar maximum.

"When multiple missions are confirming the same result, one after the other, that gives you a lot of confidence that the thinning is real," study co-author Robin Ramstad, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Colorado, told SciTechDaily.


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