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Caption: One of the Pioneer probes descends through the thick Venusian atmosphere lit by lightning. Image: NASA SP-461.


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Feb 07, 2005
The Electrified Atmosphere of Venus

Despite the NASA artist’s depiction above, there has been a reluctance to admit data that points to lightning on Venus. As one report in Science magazine said, “On Venus the clouds tend to resemble fogbanks… You don’t see much lightning in fog.” But when the Galileo spacecraft passed Venus on its way to Jupiter, Science reported with some surprise, “The most striking observations made by the Galileo spacecraft during its flyby of Venus was evidence of lightning.” Earlier reports of lightning tended to be discounted, it seems, because they did not fit the pattern of earthly lightning.

The Venera spacecraft found “continuous lightning activity from 32km down to about 2km altitude, with discharges as frequent as an amazing 25 per second.” The highest recorded rate on Earth is 1.4 per second during a severe blizzard. The Pioneer lander recorded 1000 radio impulses. Thirty-two minutes after landing, Venera 11 detected a very loud noise, which was believed to be thunder. The astronomer, Garry Hunt, suggested that “...Venusians may well be glowing from the nearly continuous discharges of those frequent lightning strokes.”

The Venusians may be glowing from another effect of electricity as well. At a height of 16km, two Pioneer probes on the night hemisphere detected a “mysterious glow” coming from the surface. The glow increased on descent and was probably caused by a glow discharge on the surface, known on Earth as “St. Elmo’s fire.” See:

Archive Feb 4, 2005

But the most direct evidence for intense electrical activity in the Venusian atmosphere came as the Pioneer probes descended through clear air. As David Grinspoon wrote in Venus Revealed, “What the hell happened at 12.5 kilometers? Each probe went haywire as it passed through a height of about 12 kilometers, or 7.5 miles, above the surface. The temperature and pressure sensors sent back crazy numbers, power surged throughout the probes, and some instruments stopped functioning entirely.” The NASA report found that “the sensors that failed at almost the same time were made of different materials and their electronics were isolated from each other.” Furthermore, some of the strange readings “can best be explained if the probe became covered with a plasma of charged particles.” The other anomalies “would be consistent with static discharges within or outside the probe, if such were possible.”

In the Electric Universe model of Venus such electrical activity is not just possible, it's expected. Many mysteries about Venus can be cleared up with one simple assumption: Venus is a charged body immersed in an electrical circuit. As plasma scientists have known for decades, this means that Venus will be the focus of an invisible cometary style discharge to the solar electrical environment. When spacecraft first encountered Venus’ magnetotail, astronomers described it as “cometary.” When later spacecraft encountered that tail near the Earth, astronomers were surprised that it was so long and comprised of “stringy things.” They expected it to have blown away like smoke in the solar "wind." However, plasma physicists recognized the “stringy things” as Birkeland currents, the typical form, required by the laws of electromagnetism, taken by moving charged particles in plasma. Because the universe is filled with tenuous plasma, Birkeland currents act as invisible “power lines” throughout the cosmos.

Electrical energy also powers the intense UV airglow, the “ashen light” and the ionosphere on the dark side of Venus, where the night is 58 Earth-days long. The astronomer Axel Firsoff wrote of the ashen light: “There can be no doubt that the true origin of the Ashen Light is electric. It is a night-sky glow, similar to that in our own sky but estimated to be 50-80 times stronger.”

Because this electrical power is being delivered to Venus from external circuits, winds at the cloud tops are driven to 220mph - 60 times faster than the planet surface 40 miles below. This super-rotation of the upper atmosphere mystifies planetary scientists. But it is a “Faraday motor effect” also exhibited by the atmospheres of the Sun, the gas-giant planets, and even Saturn's moon, Titan – Venus’ little brother. The Faraday motor model sees the so-called “magnetic flux ropes” of the solar wind, which are tightly coupled to Venus, as Birkeland currents delivering electric power into the equatorial ionosphere. The Pioneer Orbiter found evidence of the axial part of the circuit at the poles, but that evidence was not recognized as a plasma discharge formation: It was described as “a giant vortex of surprisingly complex structure and behavior” and “one of the more remarkable phenomena in the solar system.” It has the structure of a barred spiral galaxy, which in the Electric Universe represents the grandest scale of plasma discharge. [The next Picture of the Day will discuss the Venus dipole effect in more detail.]

The following comment (emphasis added) is from F. W. Taylor of the University of Oxford's Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics Department. It illustrates the difficulties faced by theorists who have no training in plasma physics or in electrical engineering and who fail to understand the electrical nature of the universe: “Like the Jovian Great Red Spot, the absence of viable theories which can be tested, or in this case any theory at all, leaves us uncomfortably in doubt as to our basic ability to understand even gross features of planetary atmospheric circulations.”

Contributed by Wallace Thornhill


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