Identifying the mysterious dark bands in Venus’s atmosphere


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The uncertainty of science: Scientists have now proposed two new best candidates for the unknown major component in Venus’s upper atmosphere that was first identified in 1974 when Mariner 10 took the first good close-up images.

We have analyzed spectra taken during the second Venus flyby of MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft on its route to Mercury, in 2007. Using a numerical code, we have reproduced the light reflected by the equatorial atmosphere of the planet and retrieved the distribution of particles in the upper atmosphere of Venus, with a cloud top of some 75 km above the surface. We have also retrieved the absorption spectrum of the puzzling absorber and compared it with some previously proposed candidates. While no perfect match is found, sulfur-bearing species (S2O and S2O2) provide the best agreement. There is still a long way to undoubtedly identify Venus’s UV absorber, but this work provides substantial spectral constraints.

The dark absorber shows up as dark streaks in the upper atmosphere, and allows images to track wind and cloud movement. No one has been able to firmly identify it.

S2O and S2O2 are disulfur monoxide and disulfur dioxide respectively, both of which are unstable on Earth. The first is thought to have been detected in Io’s numerous volcanic eruptions, with it settling as a solid around at least one volcano, Pele. The second has already been suggested as the dark absorber. This research helps confirm that earlier research.

Note however that other research says there is too little sulfur in Venus’s atmosphere for this to be its dark absorber. The science here therefore remains decidedly unsettled.

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