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May 20, 2008

Atmospheric Chemistry

Hydroxyl Radical Found On Venus

Venus Express spacecraft detects elusive atmospheric species

Elizabeth K. Wilson

ESA © 2007 MPS/DLR-PF/IDA
EXPLORING VENUS The European Space Agency’s Venus Express spacecraft captured this image, in false color, of the southern hemisphere of Venus last year. The spacecraft recently detected hydroxyl radicals in the venutian atmosphere.

The reactive hydroxyl radical, which helps sop up pollutant molecules in Earth’s atmosphere, has now also been found in the hellish atmosphere of Venus. The discovery promises to help scientists understand the roles of this reactive species, as well as other molecules such as ozone and oxygen, on our neighboring planet.

Sensitive spectrometers aboard the European Space Agency’s Venus Express spacecraft, which is orbiting Venus, detected infrared emissions from HO, reports planetary scientist Giuseppe Piccioni of the Instituto di Astrofisica Spaziale e Fisica Cosmica, in Rome, and colleagues (Astron. Astrophys., DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361:200809761).

Although HO had not been seen before around a planet besides Earth, it’s been thought to play a role in atmospheric chemistry and dynamics on both Venus and Mars. But it had been difficult to detect before because it’s rare and its spectroscopic bands overlap with those of other species.

Scientists are particularly interested in better understanding Venus’ atmosphere because the planet is ap