Astronomers recently found clear evidence of the presence of atomic oxygen above toxic clouds on Venus’ sunlit dayside. The discovery by researchers at the German Aerospace Center could mark a new phase in the study of Earth’s atmosphere. Analysis of data obtained by the Stratospheric Infrared Astronomy Observatory (SOFIA) suggests the existence of previously unknown chemical and dynamic processes on the second planet of our solar system. By studying the properties of Venus’ atmosphere, scientists hope to uncover the mechanisms that led to its fundamental differences from Earth’s atmosphere. Atomic oxygen, a single element with no bonds to other atoms, is different from the diatom oxygen we breathe on Earth. On Venus, atomic oxygen has previously been found on the night side, where it is less likely to interact with other elements or sunlight. The researchers discovered that oxygen atoms are located on the dayside of Venus, where more complex molecules typically form when exposed to bright sunlight.
The data not only confirmed this finding, but also showed that atomic oxygen is more widespread in Venus’ atmosphere than previous models predicted. This observation indicates that the process of atomic oxygen production and decomposition is active and effective even under the influence of solar radiation. These newly identified or underappreciated atmospheric mechanisms likely play an important role in the thermochemical regulation of Venus’s atmosphere.