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Experts puzzled by spot on Venus
Astronomers are puzzled by a strange bright spot which has appeared in the clouds of Venus.
The spot was first identified by an amateur astronomer on 19 July and was later confirmed by the European Space Agency's Venus Express spacecraft.
Data from the European probe suggests the spot appeared at least four days before it was spotted from Earth.
The bright spot has since started to expand, being spread by winds in Venus's thick atmosphere.


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ESA's Venus Express spacecraft has observed an eerie glow in the night-time atmosphere of Venus. This infrared light comes from nitric oxide and is showing scientists that the atmosphere of Earth's nearest neighbour is a temperamental place of high winds and turbulence.
Unfortunately, the glow on Venus cannot be seen with the naked eye because it occurs at the invisible wavelengths of infrared. ESA's Venus Express, however, is equipped with the Visible and Infrared Thermal Imaging Spectrometer (VIRTIS) instrument, which can see these wavelengths.

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A new study is underway to search for signs of habitability ... on Earth.
If that sounds like the ultimate waste of science funding, take a closer look. The project is designed to scan Earth from a distance and note the evidence for habitability, so that we can better detect that evidence on distant worlds. In essence, if we want to find life on alien planets, we have to study a planet known to host life to determine what clues to look for, scientists say.

 
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Scientists using ESAs Venus Express are trying to observe whether Earth is habitable. Silly, you might think, when we know that Earth is richly stocked with life. In fact, far from being a pointless exercise, Venus Express is paving the way for an exciting new era in astronomy.
Venus Express took its first image of Earth with its Visible and Infrared Thermal Imaging Spectrometer (VIRTIS) soon after its launch in November 2005. About a year after the spacecraft established itself in Venuss orbit, David Grinspoon, a Venus Express Interdisciplinary Scientist from the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, Colorado, suggested a programme of sustained Earth observation.

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ESAs Venus Express has measured a highly variable quantity of the volcanic gas sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere of Venus. Scientists must now decide whether this is evidence for active volcanoes on Venus, or linked to a hitherto unknown mechanism affecting the upper atmosphere.
The search for volcanoes is a long-running thread in the exploration of Venus.

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Venus Express has constantly been observing the south pole of Venus and has found it to be surprisingly fickle. An enormous structure with a central part that looks like the eye of a hurricane, morphs and changes shape within a matter of days, leaving scientists puzzled.

VI0352_animated_S.gif

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Venus Express has revealed a planet of extraordinarily changeable and extremely large-scale weather. Bright hazes appear in a matter of days, reaching from the south pole to the low southern latitudes and disappearing just as quickly. Such global weather, unlike anything on Earth, has given scientists a new mystery to solve.
The cloud-covered world of Venus is all but a featureless, unchangeable globe at visible wavelengths of light. Switch to the ultraviolet and it reveals a truly dynamic nature. Transient dark and bright markings stripe the planet, indicating regions where solar ultraviolet radiation is absorbed or reflected, respectively.

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ESAs Venus Express has recently peeled back the thick clouds around Venus to provide the most accurate and wide-ranging map of water vapour and other gases in the lower atmosphere to date.
As a planet, Venus does not radiate a significant amount of visible light. But because of the searing temperatures below its thick cloud layer, reaching 200°C at an altitude of 35 km and more than 450°C at the surface, there is great deal of infrared radiation coming from beneath.
At certain wavelengths, or infrared windows, this radiation can pass through the thick clouds, carrying information on what lies below. For example, its intensity, and how it peaks or dips at certain wavelengths, can tell us a lot about the composition of the atmosphere.
Thanks to the unique ability of its VIRTIS spectrometer to use these spectral windows, Venus Express has mapped the atmosphere over many orbits and has covered the lower atmosphere for the first time.
The atmosphere of Venus is dominated by carbon dioxide but as VIRTIS looked on, it detected the signature of carbon monoxide, an unusual find in the planets deep atmosphere. Looking further, in higher resolution, scientists also found carbonyl sulphide and water vapour. Since the early 1980s these molecules were known to exist on Venus, but before Venus Express they had never been measured and mapped so extensively and accurately.  

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Nearby Venus is looking a bit more Earth-like with frequent bursts of lightning confirmed by a new European space probe.
For nearly three decades, astronomers have said Venus probably had lightning ever since a 1978 NASA probe showed signs of electrical activity in its atmosphere. But experts weren't sure because of signal interference.
Now a magnetic antenna on the European Space Agency's Venus Express probe proved that the lightning was real.

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The latest results from the mission were presented today at a press conference held at ESA headquarters in Paris, and will appear in the 29 November issue of the scientific journal Nature.
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Terrific south polar vortex
 
Terrific south polar vortex
Permanently covered in clouds, Venus has been a mystery for centuries. Although it is the planet nearest to Earth, it has proved extraordinarily difficult to study because of its curtain of clouds that obscures our view of its surface.
Venus has approximately the same mass as the Earth yet it is a hellish place where surface temperatures are over 400°C and the surface pressure is a hundred times that on Earth. The key to understanding Venus lies in its atmosphere, which is much thicker than Earths.

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