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Venus Unmasked: NASA's SOFIA Finds Oxygen in Alien Skies



  Nov 10, 2023

Venus’s Oxygen Discovery



Q: How was oxygen detected on Venus?

A: Oxygen was detected on Venus using the SOFIA airborne observatory, which carries an infrared telescope on a Boeing 747SP aircraft. This was a joint project by NASA and the German Aerospace Center.

Q: What is atomic oxygen?

A: Atomic oxygen consists of single oxygen atoms, different from the molecular oxygen (O2) that is breathable on Earth, which consists of two oxygen atoms bonded together.

Q: Where in the atmosphere of Venus was oxygen found?

A: Oxygen was detected in a thin layer of the Venusian atmosphere, sandwiched between two denser layers, approximately 60 miles (100 km) above the planet’s surface.

Q: How is the oxygen on Venus produced?

A: On Venus, oxygen is produced on the planet’s day side by the action of ultraviolet radiation from the sun, which breaks down atmospheric carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide into oxygen atoms and other chemicals.

Q: Why is the discovery of oxygen on Venus important?

A: This discovery is important because it provides direct evidence of photochemical processes in Venus’s atmosphere and helps us understand atmospheric dynamics, including the transport of oxygen from the day side to the night side of the planet.

Q: What does this discovery tell us about the possibility of life on Venus?

A: While the detection of oxygen is intriguing, Venus’s surface conditions are extremely hostile to life as we know it, with high temperatures and pressure, and an atmosphere rich in carbon dioxide. The presence of atomic oxygen does not imply that life exists on Venus.

Q: How does the atmosphere of Venus compare to Earth’s?

A: Venus’s atmosphere is mostly composed of carbon dioxide (96.5%), with very little oxygen, unlike Earth’s atmosphere, which is about 78% nitrogen and 21% oxygen. The temperatures and pressures on Venus are also much more extreme than on Earth.

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