This observation might change the way astronomers will look at other planets’ atmospheres. Until now, scientists believed that the phenomena on Earth are common in the entire Universe. And since on Earth, the winds mix the gases of the atmosphere into a homogeneous blend, they though the same happens on Venus, for instance. And on every other planet for that matter.
There was no small surprise to discover the disparity of the gases in Venus’ atmosphere. The nitrogen concentrations are different at different altitudes. The observation was made possible by NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft sent into space to study Mercury.
On the way to Mercury’s orbit, MErcury Surface Space ENvironment GEochemistry and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft flew once by Earth, twice by Venus, and three times by Mercury before settling into its orbit. This is when it gathered the data on Venus. A visible and near-infrared imaging data of the upper atmosphere an ultraviolet and X-ray spectrometry of the upper atmosphere.
The surprising observations on the Venus’ atmosphere
Although the data is from 2007, the results of the research are only recent. Patrick Peplowski is the physicist that did the research and concluded that not all planetary atmospheres behave the same. Peplowski is a physicist at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md.
Information dating from 1970 said at altitudes below 45 kilometers, the nitrogen concentration of Venus’ atmosphere is about 3.5%. MESSENGER sent proof that at altitudes from 60 to 90 kilometers, the nitrogen levels are higher.
MESSENGER measured the neutrons released by the atmosphere and with the help of computer simulations, the estimated levels of nitrogen needed to generate those neutron counts in the upper atmosphere of Venus is of 5%. “I do wonder if it’s a coincidence, or if the same processes that form that cloud deck are responsible for somehow separating the lower and upper atmospheres,” said Peplowski.