Researchers find planet-sized space weather explosions at Venus
Sunday, February 23, 2014, 3:25 PM -
Most would agree that this winter has been particularly harsher than usual. With British Columbia in the midst of another messy storm, the Prairie provinces shivering in extreme wind chills, and the Atlantic Canada...well let's just say they've endured more than one ever should.
But as ferocious as it can get in this country, it is important to remember that things are far, FAR, worse on other planets.
Researchers recently discovered that a common space weather phenomenon on the outskirts of our planet's magnetic bubble, has a much different effect on our neighbour Venus.
The massive explosions, called hot flow anomalies, can be so large at Venus that they're actually bigger than the planet itself and occur multiple times a day, according to a study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research.
"Not only are they gigantic," said Glyn Collinson, a space scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "But as Venus doesn’t have a magnetic field to protect itself, the hot flow anomalies happen right on top of the planet. They could swallow the planet whole."
But fear not Earthlings, we are not subject to such horror. Earth is protected from the constant streaming solar wind of radiation by its magnetosphere.
Venus, on the contrary, is a barren, inhospitable planet, with an atmosphere so dense that any spacecraft landing there would be toast within hours. Venus has no magnetic protection.
"Scientists like to compare the two: What happened differently at Earth to make it into the life-supporting planet it is today? What would Earth be like without its magnetic field" writes NASA'S Goddard Space Flight Center Greenbelt, Md. Karen C. Fox. "At Earth, hot flow anomalies do not make it inside the magnetosphere, but they release so much energy just outside that the solar wind is deflected, and can be forced to move back toward the sun. Without a magnetosphere, what happens at Venus is very different."
Venus's only line of defense from the solar wind is the charged outer layer of its atmosphere known as the ionosphere. A sensitive pressure balance lives between the ionosphere and the solar wind -- a balance easily disrupted by the massive energy rush of a hot flow anomaly.
"The hot flow anomalies may create dramatic, planet-scale disruptions, possibly sucking the ionosphere up and away from the surface of the planet. "
Published in the Journal of Geophysical Research
Source: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center