NASA’s spacecraft flew past Venus last summer and discovered natural radio signals from the Earth’s twins. This signal showed that the probe was passed through the higher atmosphere of Venus, collecting its first direct measurements in almost 30 years.
The solar mission, launched in 2018, aims to study the sun and discover some of its mysteries. The probe will travel through the atmosphere of the sun for seven years and move closer to the surface of our star than any previous spacecraft.
Venus was instrumental in the success of the research. The spaceship uses the gravity of Venus as it orbits the planet, called gravity support, to help bend the orbit of the probe and bring it closer to the sun.
During one of the flights to Venus on 11 July 2020, the study gathered evidence that the upper atmosphere of Venus underwent some unusual changes, influenced by the solar cycle, as an 11-year cycle of solar activity.
The spaceship also took incredible photos that show an unexpected side to our planetary neighbors. This is Venus’ third gravity aid for Parker’s solar probe. During flight, the probe reached a distance of 517 miles (833 kilometers) from the surface of the planet.
The information Parker has gathered so far about Venus helps scientists understand why Venus is different from Earth, although the planets are often called twins.
The two planets are rocky and similar in size, but something happened that changed the Earth and Venus differently. Unlike Earth, Venus has no magnetic field. The inhospitable surface has flame retardant temperatures that can dissolve lead.
Trying to study Venus with a spaceship is difficult because it can take at most only a few hours as it attempts to reach the surface. Earlier missions to explore Venus include NASA’s Pioneer Venus Orbiter from 1978 to 1992 and the European Space Agency’s Venus Express from 2005 to 2014, both of which revolve around the planet.
But understanding why Venus turned out this way, scientists were able to help determine why some Earth-like planets appear habitable, while others are not.
During the third voyage of Venus, the Parker Solar Probe FIELDS instrument, which measures the electric and magnetic fields in the sun’s atmosphere, found a naturally occurring radio frequency signal. This appears as a “frown” on the data of the fields.
“I’m excited to receive the new data from Venus,” Glenn Collinson, study lead author and research partner at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in a statement. “To see Venus now is all about those little glimpses.”
Collinson, a Venetian who studied data from previous missions to the planet, thought the signals were known. He previously worked on the Galileo orbit, and studied Jupiter and its moons from 1995 to 2003.
Collinson notes that this type of wrinkle appears in Galileo’s data as the spacecraft passes through Jupiter’s lunar ionosphere.
Both Earth and Venus contain the ionosphere, as layers of electrically charged gases, at the upper edge of the atmosphere. This plasma emits natural radio waves that can be picked up by instruments such as Parker FIELDS.
Collinson and his colleagues realized that the probe had touched Venus ‘upper atmosphere during its flight in July 2020. The radio signals recorded by FIELDS helped researchers calculate the density of Venus’ ionosphere. The last time the research team had access to this type of data, it was collected in 1992 by the Pioneer Venus Orbiter.
At this time, the sun is close to its solar maximum, as peak activity, during the solar cycle.
During the flight in July after nearly 30 years, data were collected in the ionosphere six months after the solar minimum.
A comparison of the data reveals what scientists have long suspected: The ionosphere of Venus changes in response to solar activity throughout the solar system’s entire cycle.
The researchers found that the pink ionosphere is much thinner during the minimum of the sun than during the maximum.
“When multiple missions confirm the same results, one by one, it gives you a lot of confidence that the mitigation is real,” said study author Robin Ramstad, a postdoctoral researcher at the University’s Laboratory for Spherical and Space Physics. from Colorado. Boulder in a statement.
Understanding how Venus responds to the changes that the sun experiences can help scientists discover how the planet evolved. The ionosphere leaks energetic gases into space, indicating that the atmosphere has changed over time.
“The purpose of flying at Venus is to slow down the spacecraft so that Parker’s solar probe can dive into the sun,” said Noor Al-Rawafi, project scientist for Parker Solar Probe at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, in a statement. “But we will not miss the opportunity to gather scientific data and provide unique insights into mysterious planets such as Venus.”