Ozone layer discovered on Venus

From the European Space Agency:

ESA finds that Venus has an ozone layer too
Venus Express

ESA’s Venus Express spacecraft has discovered an ozone layer high in the atmosphere of Venus. Comparing its properties with those of the equivalent layers on Earth and Mars will help astronomers refine their searches for life on other planets.

Venus Express made the discovery while watching stars seen right at the edge of the planet set through its atmosphere. Its SPICAV instrument analysed the starlight, looking for the characteristic fingerprints of gases in the atmosphere as they absorbed light at specific wavelengths.

The ozone was detectable because it absorbed some of the ultraviolet from the starlight.

Ozone is a molecule containing three oxygen atoms. According to computer models, the ozone on Venus is formed when sunlight breaks up carbon dioxide molecules, releasing oxygen atoms.

These atoms are then swept around to the nightside of the planet by winds in the atmosphere: they can then combine to form two-atom oxygen molecules, but also sometimes three-atom ozone molecules.
“This detection gives us an important constraint on understanding the chemistry of Venus’ atmosphere,” says Franck Montmessin, who led the research.

It may also offer a useful comparison for searching for life on other worlds.

Ozone has only previously been detected in the atmospheres of Earth and Mars. On Earth, it is of fundamental importance to life because it absorbs much of the Sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. Not only that, it is thought to have been generated by life itself in the first place.

The build-up of oxygen, and consequently ozone, in Earth’s atmosphere began 2.4 billion years ago. Although the exact reasons for it are not entirely understood, microbes excreting oxygen as a waste gas must have played an important role.

Along with plant life, they continue to do so, constantly replenishing Earth’s oxygen and ozone.

As a result, some astrobiologists have suggested that the simultaneous presence of carbon dioxide, oxygen and ozone in an atmosphere could be used to tell whether there could be life on the planet.

This would allow future telescopes to target planets around other stars and assess their habitability. However, as these new results highlight, the amount of ozone is crucial.

The small amount of ozone in Mars’ atmosphere has not been generated by life. There, it is the result of sunlight breaking up carbon dioxide molecules.

Venus too, now supports this view of a modest ozone build-up by non-biological means. Its ozone layer sits at an altitude of 100 km, about four times higher in the atmosphere than Earth’s and is a hundred to a thousand times less dense.

Theoretical work by astrobiologists suggests that a planet’s ozone concentration must be 20% of Earth’s value before life should be considered as a cause.

These new results support that conclusion because Venus clearly remains below this threshold.

“We can use these new observations to test and refine the scenarios for the detection of life on other worlds,” says Dr Montmessin.

Yet, even if there is no life on Venus, the detection of ozone there brings Venus a step closer to Earth and Mars. All three planets have an ozone layer.

“This ozone detection tells us a lot about the circulation and the chemistry of Venus’ atmosphere,” says Håkan Svedhem, ESA Project Scientist for the Venus Express mission.

“Beyond that, it is yet more evidence of the fundamental similarity between the rocky planets, and shows the importance of studying Venus to understand them all.”

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40 Responses to Ozone layer discovered on Venus

  1. Max Hugoson says:

    So there is an Atmopshere on Venus with O2?

    Incoming high intensity UV can strike that O2 and NOT form O3?

    What am I missing here in terms of fundemental science?

    REPLY:
    Might be some sort of CO2 to O2 to O3 reduction/creation process we don’t understand yet, remember Venus is closer to the sun, so higher energy available for such processes – Anthony

  2. Max Hugoson says:

    Dang, fast typing syndrome. ATMOSPHERE! Not ATMOPSHERE..

  3. Joseph says:

    “Might be some sort of CO2 to O2 to O3 reduction/creation process we don’t understand yet, remember Venus is closer to the sun, so higher energy available for such processes – Anthony”

    What? I thought those climate boys knew everything there was to know about climate. Was I wrong?

  4. stephen richards says:

    Anthony

    I think the process is the reverse. 03 to CO² giving of a free radical which can bond with many different elements in the atmosphere. O3 is extremely unstable and therefore decays readily. The energy of radiation doesn’t change at distance. planck’s constant x mù. CME impact, however, could be more energetic.

  5. Pierre says:

    Sorry to be off topic but could someone tell me whether the latest Sunspots mean that we are not entering a Maunder Min.

    Also when counting sunspots these days and comparing them I assume that scientists are aware of the methods used in the past and account for those limitations in comparing numbers…is that correct?

    Sorry for the layman questions…

  6. wobble says:

    Of course Venus has an ozone layer. They never used air conditioners and hairspray on Venus.

  7. Captain Fatty says:

    Now to look for the holes at the poles…

  8. vboring says:

    and we’re somehow destroying it, too.

  9. Sam Hall says:

    So, if we put more CO2 in the atmosphere, it will increase our radiation shield and help close the ozone hole?

  10. Gail Combs says:

    Pierre says:
    October 7, 2011 at 9:08 am

    Sorry to be off topic but could someone tell me whether the latest Sunspots mean that we are not entering a Maunder Min….

    _____________________________________________________________________
    Try layman’s sunspot count and do not miss Dr Lief Svalgaard’s comments about the counting methods at the very bottom of the site. http://www.landscheidt.info/?q=node/50

  11. Jimmy Haigh says:

    Luvverly jubbly! Lots of luvverly PhD’s in this I can tell you. Come aahn! Coma aahn!, Roll up, roll up. Two for a paahnd.

  12. Ray says:

    Here’s another reason to maintain a high concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere and not try to scrub it all away (which would actually kill all life on the planet, except for some bacteria).

  13. Phil. says:


    Max Hugoson says:
    October 7, 2011 at 8:33 am
    So there is an Atmopshere on Venus with O2?

    Incoming high intensity UV can strike that O2 and NOT form O3?

    What am I missing here in terms of fundemental science?

    REPLY: Might be some sort of CO2 to O2 to O3 reduction/creation process we don’t understand yet, remember Venus is closer to the sun, so higher energy available for such processes – Anthony

    O2 exists in the nightside mesosphere of Venus, caused by recombination of O atoms swept around from the dayside. Having O2 and O in close proximity means that it isn’t a surprise to find O3 there. Formation of O2 by Photodissociation of CO2 has been known in the atmospheres of Venus & Mars for some time. This also explains the existence of CO in the Venusian atmosphere. In our stratosphere 70% of the CO is formed this way with the attendant formation of O which will lead to O3 but the photodissociation of O2 is a bigger contributor here. By the way the UV photons aren’t more energetic at Venus than at Earth, there are just a few more of them.

    REPLY: Thanks, but I never suggested they were more energetic just more total energy at the Venusian surface . The inverse square law does hold for light, whether we consider it as a wave or a photon is irrelevant. The inverse square law is dependant on the area over which the power is dissipated. See here; http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/vision/isql.html#c1 So whether you treat light like a wave or a photon, there’s more for a given area on Venus. – Anthony

  14. George E. Smith; says:

    “”””” Ozone has only previously been detected in the atmospheres of Earth and Mars. On Earth, it is of fundamental importance to life because it absorbs much of the Sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. Not only that, it is thought to have been generated by life itself in the first place. “””””

    Well I would say that the “news” in this story is the amazing revelation that life produces the earth’s ozone.

    We have of course the “ozone layer” in the upper atmosphere; izzat the upper troposphere or the stratosphere ? Well it doesn’t matter much; it’s a thin layer that can only exist in a narrow altitude range. So quick quiz; list the ten most well known species of life in that ozone layer.

    Then of course we have lower atmospheric ozone that is readily detectable after typical lightning and thunderstorms. Well you don’t even need lightning to get ozone; the sparks that accompany carbon brushes intermittently contacting the copper bars of electric motor commutators are a well known cause of ozone; apparently the lightning (or thunder) scares nearby life forms, causing them to emit ozone; maybe an event commonly known as a f**t .

    So life causes ozone; and we never would have guessed that before this paper.

    A rather well known chemist has argued that the ozone layer is simply the evidence that Oxygen (O2) is doing its job of protecting us for the far UV from the sun; which breaks up O2 to form atomic oxygen. Atomic oxygen of course is ferociously reactive, and eagerly latches onto a nearby O2 to form Ozone. Apparently (I’m not a chemist) one of the two O-O bonds in Ozone is a rather weak ionic bond, rather than the (apparently) stronger covalent bond; so that ozone is readily destroyed by longer wavelength sunlight (mid spectrum). It would seem that the narrow altitude range of the ozone layer lies high enough for the far (Vaccuum) UV from the sun to survive and break up O2 to form atomic Oxygen, faster than the longer wavelengths can destroy the resultant ozone. So the causative life forms for these processes must live in a very restricted survival range.

    Who would have guessed

  15. Would not the water bound to sulfur be a more likely source for the 03? Even the ice moons have very tenuous oxygen atmospheres. The source for oxygen in atmospheres appears to be due to the photodissection of H2O, and not a sign of life per se.

  16. Phil. says:

    REPLY: Thanks, but I never suggested they were more energetic just more total energy at the Venusian surface . The inverse square law does hold for light, whether we consider it as a wave or a photon is irrelevant. The inverse square law is dependant on the area over which the power is dissipated. See here; http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/vision/isql.html#c1 So whether you treat light like a wave or a photon, there’s more for a given area on Venus. – Anthony

    You said: “Might be some sort of CO2 to O2 to O3 reduction/creation process we don’t understand yet, remember Venus is closer to the sun, so higher energy available for such processes”

    The point is that there isn’t more energy available for the process, a single photon in the UV does the job (0.116 to 0.195 μm) that’s the same energy here or on Venus. The process is understood
    CO2 + hν -> CO + O, when the O makes it round to the dark side it can recombine to form O2 and O3. The whole process takes place at an altitude of 100km above the Venusian surface.

    REPLY: Phil you are reading too much into this. I wasn’t suggesting we don’t understand the process of CO2 disassociation, only that we might not understand the process as it exists on Venus in that atmosphere. All we know is that there is ozone there. We don’t know if the process is the same as Earth/Mars or has other attributes. I’m also not arguing the energy of a single photon, just the total energy over area. My short and intended to be helpful comment obviously is turning into a Phil phest. – Anthony

  17. Tom Davidson says:

    The interesting question here (to me, anyway) is why didn’t Venus evolve sulfate-reducing microbes such as the cyanobacteria present on Archaean earth (before the atmosphere became polluted with the by-product of such bio-chemistry – oxygen)?

  18. Another Gareth says:

    “Ozone is a molecule containing three oxygen atoms. According to computer models, the ozone on Venus is formed when sunlight breaks up carbon dioxide molecules, releasing oxygen atoms.”

    Interesting. I wonder if it would be practical to turn CO2 into CO and then into other substances; eg CO2 into CO into Methanol. I guess if it was it would already be being done but it appears research is ongoing – New Scientist: Catalyst could help turn CO2 into fuel.

  19. Phil. says:

    George E. Smith; says:
    October 7, 2011 at 10:26 am
    “”””” Ozone has only previously been detected in the atmospheres of Earth and Mars. On Earth, it is of fundamental importance to life because it absorbs much of the Sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. Not only that, it is thought to have been generated by life itself in the first place. “””””

    Well I would say that the “news” in this story is the amazing revelation that life produces the earth’s ozone.

    Hi George, the point is that the oxygen in the earth’s atmosphere was produced by life and photodissociation of the O2 is the major source of O3 on Earth. In the primaeval atmosphere there would have been much less ozone.

  20. mwhite says:

    “Might be some sort of CO2 to O2 to O3 reduction/creation process we don’t understand yet, remember Venus is closer to the sun, so higher energy available for such processes – Anthony”

    “According to computer models, the ozone on Venus is formed when sunlight breaks up carbon dioxide molecules”

    Computer models again.

    Mars isn’t so close to the sun.

  21. Kelvin Vaughan says:

    wobble says:
    October 7, 2011 at 9:13 am

    Of course Venus has an ozone layer. They never used air conditioners and hairspray on Venus.
    No but they burnt fossil fuels and look what happened to the atmosphere!

  22. ShrNfr says:

    Neat. Of course, our real problems come from the owezone liar we have in the US at present.

  23. Phil. says:

    REPLY: Phil you are reading too much into this. I wasn’t suggesting we don’t understand the process of CO2 disassociation, only that we might not understand the process as it exists on Venus in that atmosphere. All we know is that there is ozone there.

    We know a bit more than that, we know that there is CO2, CO, O, O2, UV photons of the right energy and now O3. Their locations are where we would expect be based on our understanding of CO2 photodissociation and O atom recombination reactions.

  24. Hoser says:

    This post reports O3 formed from CO2. The fate of oxygen atoms was discussed. What happens to the carbon atoms? If protons from the solar wind can hit the atmosphere, there might be some slight production of organic molecules (perhaps formaldehyde). Based on density, methane would tend to rise in all that CO2 and break up. However, propane and larger (and alcohols, etc.) might sink. It might be interesting to look in IR for alcohols, aldehydes, and ketones. Nitrogen and sulfur are also available. It appears the European Venus-Express satellite should be able to see organic compounds. ESA publications report hydroxyl and C-O bands have been found.

    http://www.springerlink.com/content/r37p8qrn876j54x1/

    http://www2.chemistry.msu.edu/faculty/reusch/VirtTxtJml/Spectrpy/InfraRed/infrared.htm

    http://www.wellesley.edu/Chemistry/chem211lab/Orgo_Lab_Manual/Appendix/Instruments/InfraredSpec/Chem211%20IR%20Lit%20Value%20Table.pdf

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venus_Express#Spectrometer

    http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Venus_Express_Provides_First_Detection_Of_Hydroxyl_In_Atmosphere_Of_Venus_999.html

    CO

    http://sci.esa.int/science-e/www/object/index.cfm?fobjectid=42249

    Solar wind

    http://sci.esa.int/science-e/www/object/index.cfm?fobjectid=39669

  25. Phil. says:

    Hoser, the CO2 produces CO and O, you don’t need to worry about C. Not much chance of complex organics up there with that much UV photons flying around.

  26. Baa Humbug says:

    I just need to get this straight so any help would be apreciated.

    * Take a carbon atom, “burn” it with Oxygen to get CO2 (and get some work done in the process)
    * Send the CO2 aloft where sunlight “whamm” disassociates the atoms, leaving us C and O atoms.
    * return the C atom back down, “burn” it with Oxygen (get more work done) etc etc
    * Repeat ad infinitum

    I see a problem with all that so my understanding must be incomplete.

  27. kwinterkorn says:

    A sidenote: There seem to be two conflicting themes in space science in our era:
    1. Anything that can be remotely tied to the possibility of Life-Out-There is made important thereby.
    2. It is no big deal for Humans to explore space, Robot craft are economically more efficient and avoid the dangers Man faces in Space travel and so are preferred.

    For me, humans spreading our life into space is what this science should be all about. For others, it seems they more fear that humans will contaminate space than hope to extend mankind’s dominion. When I was a kid in the 60’s, and man landed on the moon, I was sure a colony on Mars would come within decades. Now it looks like nothing of this scale will happen in my lifetime. Makes me sad. I don’t get it: Other Life-Out-There is important, but Human Life-Out-There isn’t worth the tiny percent of GDP we would have to spend to “make it happen”, as Captain Picard would have demanded.

  28. Anthony Scalzi says:

    Captain Fatty says:
    October 7, 2011 at 9:22 am

    Now to look for the holes at the poles…

    That would be really interesting.

  29. jimmi_the_dalek says:

    George E Smith says:
    “Apparently (I’m not a chemist) one of the two O-O bonds in Ozone is a rather weak ionic bond, rather than the (apparently) stronger covalent bond; so that ozone is readily destroyed by longer wavelength sunlight (mid spectrum)”

    Not so. The ozone molecule is symmetric. The two bonds are exactly the same as each other, though weaker than the one bond in O2.

  30. Christopher Simpson says:

    I have no comment on the discovery of ozone because I am simply too disheartened by the amateurish and adolescent quality of the writing in the press release.

  31. Christopher Simpson says:

    kwinterkorn says:
    October 7, 2011 at 2:42 pm

    That’s because we once were explorers in an unending search to discover the mysteries waiting over an ever-shifting horizon. From the depths of our hearts, we swelled to the aged Ulysses’s cry:

    Come, my friends,
    ‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
    Push off, and sitting well in order smite
    The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
    To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
    Of all the western stars, until I die.

    Today, however, we check with our lawyers to see if the term “western stars” is somehow discriminatory and pass legislation for safer baths.

  32. dscott says:

    It is well known that lightning produces ozone. Given the large amount of lightning occurring in Venus’ atmosphere, the ozone find should not be surprising. The only reason they were surprised is that they didn’t look for it in the first place.

    http://atoc.colorado.edu/~seand/headinacloud/?p=216

    For the first time, scientists have evidence of lightning on Venus found from this mission. Many scientists were caught off guard in seeing it. Scientists believed that it wasn’t possible to have lightning on Venus due to the smog-type of cloud found there. Since smog-type clouds generally don’t produce elecrical charges, they assumed it wasn’t possible. They now wonder if they have thought of all the reasons electricity could be generated by the atmosphere.

    The operative thought here is what scientists thought what was NOT possible:

    “In addition to all the pressure and heat, we can confirm there is lightning on Venus — maybe even more activity than there is here on Earth,” said Christopher Russell, a NASA-sponsored scientist on Venus Express from the University of California, Los Angeles, and lead author of one of the Nature papers.

    http://www.nasa.gov/vision/universe/solarsystem/venus-20071128.html

    More lightning occurring on Venus than Earth! In other words, due to the preconceptions of scientists they would have missed the discovery of ozone were it not for serendipity. Gives you real confidence in the educated elites claiming we should defer to them on matters of science. /snark/

  33. George E. Smith; says:
    October 7, 2011 at 10:26 am

    Well I would say that the “news” in this story is the amazing revelation that life produces the earth’s ozone.

    That is exactly what I thought too. Thanks for your explanation of the process.

    The conclusion is inevitable. Just as the ozone on Earth is caused by life, so it is with CO2 on Earth, all three planets have atmospheric CO2, In the absence of any better explanation, atmospheric CO2 on Earth is man-made, because man only exists on Earth.

    Ozone provides protection against UV radiation and is created by UV breaking down CO2. Therefore, and I am sure that Al Gore does not know that, the more humans there are on Earth and the more CO2 they produce, the more Ozone there will be and the more all life on Earth will be protected against cancer-causing UV radiation. We know that because “scientists say so.” /sarc off

  34. Gary Pearse says:

    “Not only that, it is thought to have been generated by life itself in the first place.”

    Wow, we have a theory that life itself generated ozone. Not wanting to abandon this theory, we now change it so that a bit of ozone can be produced without life – say 20% of earth’s ozone amount. This changing your theory instead of discarding it in face of empirical data that falsifies it is part of this new post normal science where the science is settled – we just have to bend it a bit in the face of a potential falsification. I can see why this is here. They have obviously spent a lot of time, money and careers looking for life on other planets by checking out if it has ozone or not. Gee it would be inconvenient to get rid of this theory now. Sounds familiar!

  35. George E. Smith; says:

    “””””” jimmi_the_dalek says:

    October 7, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    George E Smith says:
    “Apparently (I’m not a chemist) one of the two O-O bonds in Ozone is a rather weak ionic bond, rather than the (apparently) stronger covalent bond; so that ozone is readily destroyed by longer wavelength sunlight (mid spectrum)”

    Not so. The ozone molecule is symmetric. The two bonds are exactly the same as each other, though weaker than the one bond in O2. “””””

    See you prove my point; I am not a chemist, which is why I said so. And neither did I make up the comment about the Oxygen bonds; I read it somewhere, in what I presumed was a more accurate source than my imagination. It might also have suggested that those two bonds switched places much as do the single and double bonds in the Benzene ring.

    But I’m happy to adopt your correction, since as I said, I am not a chemist.

  36. George E. Smith; says:

    “”””” Phil. says:

    October 7, 2011 at 11:13 am

    George E. Smith; says:
    October 7, 2011 at 10:26 am
    “”””” Ozone has only previously been detected in the atmospheres of Earth and Mars. On Earth, it is of fundamental importance to life because it absorbs much of the Sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. Not only that, it is thought to have been generated by life itself in the first place. “””””

    Well I would say that the “news” in this story is the amazing revelation that life produces the earth’s ozone.

    Hi George, the point is that the oxygen in the earth’s atmosphere was produced by life and photodissociation of the O2 is the major source of O3 on Earth. In the primaeval atmosphere there would have been much less ozone. “””””

    Thanks Phil, good to see your posts again. And of course I would agree that we believe that life on earth ultimately produced the free Oxygen of the atmosphere and ultimately the ozone. I thought the new story was implying a more direct process of ozone creation by life.

    Odd that life on earth arose in an oxygen and ozone free environment and presumably a good dose of solar UV.. Well some high energy photons might be helpful in stimulating some of the syntheses that must have taken place.

    But earth certainly had plenty of Oxygen and Carbon long before life arose.; strange that we view either as evidence of life.

  37. Cementafriend says:

    Anthony, good you hedged about light waves and photons. Photons is one of the planks for the AGW believers, and is frequently mentioned by those who do not understand the engineering discipline of heat and mass transfer. Nobel prize winner WE Lamb jr does not like the concept of photons see here http://www-3.unipv.it/fis/tamq/Anti-photon.pdf and this paper may provide additional insight http://www.worldsci.org/pdf/abstracts/abstracts_5711.pdf

  38. George E. Smith; says:

    “”””” “””””” jimmi_the_dalek says:

    October 7, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    George E Smith says:
    “Apparently (I’m not a chemist) one of the two O-O bonds in Ozone is a rather weak ionic bond, rather than the (apparently) stronger covalent bond; so that ozone is readily destroyed by longer wavelength sunlight (mid spectrum)”

    Not so. The ozone molecule is symmetric. The two bonds are exactly the same as each other, though weaker than the one bond in O2. “”””” “””””

    Well I Binged a couple of different web sites actually three; one of which was Wikipedia, which I took with a large grain of NaCl; but all three were in agreement, in saying that the Ozone molecule is NOT symmetrical; one O=O bond is a double bond, but the other O-O bond is a single bond. OK they didn’t say one was ionic, and the other covalent, so I must have just imagined that part. A couple of them also mentioned that the structure was a resonant one, similar to the Benzene ring structure which I also had allouded to, so the single and double bonds can switch places. Of course Mother Gaia is the only one who can read the serial numbers of each Oxygen atom and so tell them apart; but at any time when one looks at the molecule is is NOT symmetrical.

    But I am NOT a chemist so a whole lot of the mumbo-jumbo they cited, in detail is quite foreign to me..

  39. Phil. says:

    Right George, on average the molecule will look symmetrical but it’s vibrating in three different modes which have frequencies at about 10^14 Hz.

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