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Published: 11 Nov, 2020 Updated: 15 Dec, 2020, 15:45

Surprisingly little water has escaped to space from Venus

NEWS A new dissertation shows that only a small part of Venus' historical amount of water has flowed from Venus to space in the last four billion years. It is much smaller than researchers previously thought. On 13 November, Moa Persson, Institute for Space Physics, IRF, and Umeå University defended her results.

Text: Annelie Klint Nilsson och Ingrid Söderbergh

“I calculated how much water escaped from Venus by assuming how the solar wind affects the flight of ions today and how the solar wind has changed over time” says Moa Persson.

The dissertation is based on analyzes of how the solar wind, a stream of charged particles from the sun, affects Venus' atmosphere and contributes to particles escaping from the atmosphere to space. Moa Persson has analyzed data from the IRF's space instrument ASPERA-4 which was on board the European space agency ESA's space probe Venus Express.

“The surface of Venus today can be compared to hell because it is extremely dry and has a temperature of 460 degrees Celsius, but historically the surface was more hospitable and probably had such a large amount of water that it could create a water depth of up to several hundred meters . The water must have disappeared in some way. My dissertation shows that only a few decimeters of the water has disappeared into space” says Moa Persson.

The studies are based on measurements of ions (charged particles) around Venus. On average, two hydrogen ions for each oxygen ion flow out of the atmosphere, indicating a flight of water. The variation in solar wind and solar radiation affects how many ions escape.

Moa Persson's dissertation shows that the amount of hydrogen ions escaping from the atmosphere varies over the solar cycle and decreases from solar minimum to solar maximum. The decrease is due to the fact that a larger part of the hydrogen ions return to Venus.

The flight of oxygen ions is mainly affected by variations in the solar wind. The results of the dissertation can be compared with similar studies of ion flight at Mars and Earth. Such comparisons can provide a more comprehensive picture of the solar wind's impact on atmospheres. Earth, with its strong magnetic field, for example, has been shown to have a greater flight of particles from the atmosphere than both Venus and Mars.

“I hope that more studies will be done about the atmospheres of Venus, Earth and Mars and how the solar wind has affected their evolution. It is especially interesting now that we have found signs that there may be life on Venus” says Moa Persson.

Moa Persson comes from Skövde, Sweden.

Dissertation and press photos:

Read the dissertation

Press photos

About the dissertation:
On Friday 13 November, Moa Persson, Department of Physics at Umeå University, defended her dissertation entitled: Escape to Space or Return to Venus: Ion Flows measured by Venus Express. Swedish title: Flykt till rymden eller retur till Venus: Jonflöden mätta av Venus Express. The dissertation took place in the auditorium IRF at the Space Campus in Kiruna at 9.00. Faculty opponent was Dr. Dmitry Titov, from ESTEC/ESA in Noordwijk, the Netherlands.