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The electric wind of Venus: A global and persistent 'polar wind'-like ambipolar electric field sufficient for the direct escape of heavy ionospheric ions

Publication date: 20 June 2016

Authors: Collinson, G.A., et al.

Journal: Geophysical Research Letters
Year: 2016

Copyright: © 2016 American Geophysical Union

First published: 20 June 2016

Understanding what processes govern atmospheric escape and the loss of planetary water is of paramount importance for understanding how life in the universe can exist. One mechanism thought to be important at all planets is an "ambipolar" electric field that helps ions overcome gravity. We report the discovery and first quantitative extraterrestrial measurements of such a field at the planet Venus. Unexpectedly, despite comparable gravity, we show the field to be five times stronger than in Earth's similar ionosphere. Contrary to our understanding, Venus would still lose heavy ions (including oxygen and all water-group species) to space, even if there were no stripping by the solar wind. We therefore find that it is possible for planets to lose heavy ions to space entirely through electric forces in their ionospheres and such an "electric wind" must be considered when studying the evolution and potential habitability of any planet in any star system.

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Last Update: 20 June 2016

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