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Studying Venus from the ground up

A helping hand for Venus Express

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The European Space Agency (ESA) has enlisted the help of several ground-based telescopes for a project to complement Venus Express' study of our twin planet.

As of yesterday, scientists working at observatories around the world have been aiming their 'scopes at our sister planet to perform measurements that are not feasible from Venus Express.

Venus Express was launched in November 2005 and is largely based on the successful ESA Mars Express mission. One of the main mission goals is to discover why our twin planet is so strikingly different to Earth.

It carries an array of useful instruments (read more about them here), but can't do everything. ESA says ground based observations in radio, submillimetre, infrared, and visible wavelengths will help interpret data sent back from orbit.

The main focus of the observations is the cloud tops in Venus's atmosphere. Doing spectroscopic analysis at visible, infrared, and submillimetre wavelengths (from the ground) will give ESA direct measurements of the wind, allowing researchers to discover more about the mesosphere and the thermosphere, two atmospheric layers situated above Venus's cloud deck.

Meanwhile, Venus Express itself will be scanning the planet from orbit, determining wind characteristics by tracking the motion of the clouds. It also studies the distribution of gaseous species and temperatures in the planet's upper atmosphere.

The next study ESA wants Earthly help with is tracking Venus's oxygen airglow emission. This is a phenomenon detectable on the night-side, that makes the planet glow. The teams will also be pitching in on a study of the composition of the mesosphere and the deep atmosphere. ®

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