Comet-like ionosphere at Venus

WHEN A PLANET BEHAVES LIKE A COMET

29 January 2013

ESA’s Venus Express has made unique observations of Venus during a period of reduced solar wind pressure, discovering that the planet’s ionosphere balloons out like a comet’s tail on its nightside.

The ionosphere is a region of weakly electrically charged gas high above the main body of a planet’s atmosphere. Its shape and density are partly controlled by the internal magnetic field of the planet.

For Earth, which has a strong magnetic field, the ionosphere is relatively stable under a range of solar wind conditions. By comparison, Venus does not have its own internal magnetic field and relies instead on interactions with the solar wind to shape its ionosphere.

The extent to which this shaping depends on the strength of the solar wind has been controversial, but new results from Venus Express reveal for the first time the effect of a very low solar wind pressure on the ionosphere of an unmagnetised planet.

Read more: When a planet behaves like a comet / Space Science / Our Activities / ESA.

Home           Top of page