Key Molecule Discovered in Venus’s Atmosphere

The detection of hydroxyl could help scientists learn more about the planet's strange atmosphere

ESA’s Venus Express spacecraft has picked up evidence that the molecule hydroxyl is lurking in the dense atmosphere of the hot planet.

The molecule is considered to be a crucial component of any planetary atmosphere because it is highly reactive – scientists say it combats pollutants in Earth’s atmosphere, and may prevent carbon dioxide from transforming into carbon monoxide above Mars.

The presence of hydroxyl – which was picked up by the spacecraft’s Visible and Thermal Imaging Spectrometer – isn’t exactly a huge surprise, but ESA scientists say it should help them refine the theoretical models they use to describe what’s going on in the planet’s atmosphere. Principal Investigator Giuseppe Piccioni said: “Venus Express has already shown us that Venus is much more Earth-like than once thought. The detection of hydroxyl brings it a step closer.”

A report describing the finding appears in the most recent issue of Astronomy & Astrophysics Letters.