Venus: Dead or Alive?

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Science  28 Nov 1986:
Vol. 234, Issue 4780, pp. 1087-1093
DOI: 10.1126/science.234.4780.1087


In situ nightside electric field observations from the Pioneer Venus Orbiter have been interpreted as evidence of extensive lightning in the lower atmosphere of Venus. The scenario, including proposed evidence of clustering of lightning over surface highland regions, has encouraged the acceptance of currently active volcanic output as part of several investigations of the dynamics and chemistry of the atmosphere and the geology of the planet. However, the correlation between the 100-hertz electric field events attributed to lightning and nightside ionization troughs resulting from the interaction of the solar wind with the ionosphere indicates that the noise results from locally generated plasma instabilities and not from any behavior of the lower atmosphere. Furthermore, analysis of the spatial distribution of the noise shows that it is not clustered over highland topography, but rather occurs at random throughout the latitude and longitude regions sampled by the orbiter during the first 5 years of operation, from 1978 to 1984. Thus the electric field observations do not identify lightning and do not provide a basis for inferring the presence of currently active volcanic output. In the absence of known evidence to the contrary, it appears that Venus is no longer active.