Molecule which can solve the Venus mystery

Molecule which can solve the Venus mystery


Source: The Hindu


Human being’s curiosity to know the unknown is the sole reason for which we launch so many space missions to explore outer space. The urge to find habitable conditions outside earth is a fascinating topic of research in astrophysics which drives space research organizations to spend so much time and money.

Recently, a study published in a nature journal in which scientists have found deeper insights about the water loss in the Venus atmosphere. Also there is a molecule which could have led to faster drying of the oceans on the venus.

This study is significant to analyze and understand the atmosphere of other planets of solar systems and exoplanets. This can also provide insights about the evolution of the planets and their atmosphere which can be helpful for the future missions for space exploration.


Reason for loss of water on Venus

The thermal process, known as hydrodynamic escape, describes how the Sun’s heat caused Venus’s outer atmosphere to expand, allowing hydrogen gas to escape into space. This phenomenon likely occurred until around 2.5 billion years ago, when the outer atmosphere cooled sufficiently.

On the other hand, non-thermal processes may have also played a role in water loss from Venus. These processes involve the interaction of water molecules with ultraviolet radiation from the Sun in Venus’s ionosphere. This radiation can split water molecules into their constituent hydrogen and oxygen atoms, with the hydrogen escaping into space due to its low mass.

The exact rates at which these processes occurred, and their relative contributions to Venus’s water loss, remain areas of active research and debate among scientists. Understanding the interplay between thermal and non-thermal processes is crucial for unraveling the history of Venus’s water loss and its implications for the planet’s evolution over time.


Findings of the study 

Dr. Cangi’s research on the formyl cation (HCO+) sheds light on the mechanisms driving hydrogen escape in the atmospheres of both Mars and Venus.

On Mars, scientists have long recognized the role of HCO+ molecules in facilitating hydrogen escape from the upper atmosphere. This positively charged molecule participates in a reaction known as the dissociative recombination (DR) reaction, where HCO+ absorbs an electron and breaks down into carbon monoxide (CO) and a hydrogen atom (H). The energetic hydrogen atoms subsequently escape into space, contributing to the overall loss of hydrogen from the Martian atmosphere.

Given the similarities between the upper atmospheres of Mars and Venus, Dr. Cangi and her colleagues extended their research to model the same underlying reactions in Venus’ ionosphere. They found that the HCO+ dissociative recombination reaction occurs at an altitude of approximately 125 kilometers above Venus, above the clouds composed of sulfuric acid.

The formation of HCO+ on Venus involves a carbon monoxide molecule (CO) losing an electron while absorbing a hydrogen atom, leading to the creation of the HCO+ molecule. Subsequently, the DR reaction occurs, where HCO+ absorbs an electron and dissociates into CO and a hydrogen atom, which then escape into space.

The researchers found HCO+ DR could have doubled the rate at which Venus lost water by hydrogen escape. This means that the oceans on the Veenus could have lasted longer.


Significance of this study 

The study on the role of the formyl cation (HCO+) in driving hydrogen escape in the atmospheres of Mars and Venus carries several significant implications:

  1. Understanding Atmospheric Evolution: By elucidating the mechanisms responsible for hydrogen escape in the atmospheres of Mars and Venus, this study contributes to our understanding of the long-term evolution of terrestrial planets. Hydrogen escape plays a crucial role in shaping the composition and dynamics of planetary atmospheres and water availability over geological timescales.
  2. Comparative Planetary Science: It provides valuable insights into the factors that govern atmospheric escape across different planetary environments. Identifying similarities and differences between these two planets enhances our understanding of the diverse outcomes of atmospheric evolution within our solar system.
  3. Implications for Exoplanetary Research: Serve as analogs for understanding similar processes occurring on exoplanets. The findings from this research can inform future studies of exoplanetary atmospheres and the potential habitability of distant worlds.
  4. Planetary Habitability: Hydrogen escape is one of the factors influencing the long-term habitability of terrestrial planets. Understanding the rates and mechanisms of hydrogen escape on Mars and Venus provides insights into the conditions that may support or inhibit the development and maintenance of life on Earth-like planets.
  5. Applied Space Science: Insights gained from this study can inform the design and interpretation of observations from spacecraft missions exploring Mars, Venus, and other planetary bodies within our solar system. Understanding atmospheric escape processes is crucial for planning and executing future missions to study planetary atmospheres.

SIgnificance of  research on Venus 

Venus is indeed an intriguing subject of research for several reasons:

  1. Understanding Planetary Evolution: Venus is often referred to as Earth’s sister planet due to its similar size, mass, and composition. However, it underwent a vastly different evolutionary path. Studying Venus helps scientists understand how terrestrial planets evolve under different conditions, such as atmospheric composition, greenhouse effects, and geological processes.
  2. Greenhouse Effect and Climate Change: Venus has a thick atmosphere composed mainly of carbon dioxide, which has led to a runaway greenhouse effect, resulting in surface temperatures exceeding 450°C (842°F). Studying Venus’ extreme greenhouse effect helps scientists better understand the mechanisms behind climate change on Earth and other planets.
  3. Atmospheric Dynamics: Venus has a dense atmosphere with strong winds and complex cloud formations. Investigating the atmospheric dynamics of Venus provides insights into atmospheric circulation patterns, weather systems, and the behavior of greenhouse gasses in extreme conditions.
  4. Volcanism and Tectonics: Venus is geologically active, with evidence of past and possibly present volcanic activity and tectonic movements. By studying Venus’ geology, scientists can gain insights into the processes shaping terrestrial planets and the factors influencing volcanic eruptions, crustal deformation, and planetary resurfacing.
  5. Planetary Habitability: Despite its inhospitable surface conditions, Venus may have had a more temperate climate in its past. Understanding the factors that led to Venus’ transformation from a potentially habitable world to its current state provides valuable insights into the factors influencing planetary habitability and the search for life beyond Earth.
  6. Comparative Planetology: Comparative studies of Venus, Earth, and Mars help scientists understand the diversity of terrestrial planets within our solar system and the range of processes shaping their evolution. By comparing Venus to Earth and Mars, researchers can identify commonalities and differences that shed light on the fundamental principles governing planetary dynamics.
  7. Space Exploration: Venus presents unique challenges for space exploration due to its hostile surface conditions, including high temperatures, atmospheric pressure, and corrosive atmosphere. Developing technologies and mission strategies to explore Venus contributes to advancements in planetary exploration capabilities that can be applied to missions to other planets and moons in our solar system and beyond.


Understanding the dynamics of these reactions and the role of HCO+ in driving hydrogen escape in Venus’ atmosphere provides valuable insights into the processes shaping the evolution of Venus and its atmospheric composition over time. This research contributes to our broader understanding of planetary atmospheres and the factors influencing their dynamics and evolution.


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