Researchers this week announced that they have uncovered a striking phenomenon on the planet Venus.
Using the European Space Agency's (ESA) Venus Express spacecraft, scientists have observed giant weather explosions coming from the top of Venus' atmosphere. The explosions are called hot flow anomalies and the ones seen coming off Venus are frequent and often larger than the planet itself.
"Not only are they gigantic," said Glyn Collinson, lead author of a paper on the discovery published in the Journal of Geophysical Research and a space scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. "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."
Hot flow anomalies observed on Venus are so large that they were seen pulling up the outer layer of the planet's atmosphere, called the ionosphere. The anomalies can cause events at a huge scale on Venus, sometimes even causing the ionosphere to pull away from the planet's surface.
Hot flow anomalies are also observed lifting out of the Earth's atmosphere, but at a much smaller scale. According to NASA, Earth is largely protected from solar winds by its magnetosphere. Venus has no comparable atmospheric layer, meaning that pressure differences between the planet's atmosphere and solar winds can easily be disrupted by hot flow anomalies, producing the spectacular weather events described in the new research.
Image via NASA