The planet has often been dubbed Earth’s twin, although it is nothing like our home. Today we talk about Venus and the transit of beauty, as the planet that bears the name of the beauty goddess has passed in front of the Sun, putting itself in the literal spotlight.
The eyes of the astrophysical community of researchers and fans alike have been, for the last weeks, fixed on our favorite former planet, Pluto. Yet, new research prompts us to look to the opposite side of the Solar System.
On July fifth, 2012, Venus passed in front of the Sun. In an attention-seeking plot, the planet lit its atmosphere in the rays of the sun, forcing the eyes of the Solar Dynamics Observatory of NASA, upon it. This may seem like a pretty common event. After all, don’t all planets pass in front of the sun like, all the time?
Well, yes. Yet, it is a very rare occurrence for us to be perfectly aligned with the planet so as to perfectly observe the whole of the planet upon the yellowy light background provided by our favorite star. Therefore, having Earth as a vantage point, the passing of Venus so perfectly in front of the sun is indeed a very rare event – it happens twice every 115 years, eight years apart.
This time, the first passing was in 2004, in June. Yet back then, there was no Solar Dynamics Observatory, as well as no JAXA-NASA Hinode solar observatory. The former being launched in 2010 and the latter in 2006, it was perfect timing for the second passing three years ago.
For this time, a combined team of researchers from the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA for short, and NASA studied the atmosphere of the planet as reflected in the rays of the sun. Venus’s atmosphere is layered, just like that of Mars, or Earth. Thus, the sun emitting light in all wavelengths, the researchers observed how much of each layer is penetrated at different angstrom values.
NASA has in plan a future mission to land on Venus. Although, most probably, unmanned, this research still helps them figure out how a spacecraft would break up upon entering the atmosphere. The process is dubbed aerobreaking. Also, researchers observed the lack of asymmetry between areas in sunset, and those in sunrise. They concluded that the atmosphere of the planet does not undergo changes when sun sets, or when it rises.
This research is also important since it provides a basis for studying exoplanets outside of our system.
Image source: nasa.gov