Friday, April 4, 2008

Did Venus Express "smell" signs of active Venus volcanoes?

This issue is also of interest for amateur astronomers for two reasons: active volcanoes and related atmospheric effects could play some role in the - controversial - visual sightings of an "ashen light" on Venus' night side. And with modern CCD cameras amateurs are actually able to join the hunt for volcanoes because right at 1 µm there is one of the windows into the atmosphere that actually permits imaging the surface of Venus where hotspots would stand out. Cameras on the Venus Express orbiter have used this approach ever since orbit insertion, but nothing was seen. Now, however, the same orbiter (well, there is only one right now :-) may have "smelled" active volcanoes by detecting "a highly variable quantity of the volcanic gas sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere of Venus. Scientists must now decide whether this is evidence for active volcanoes on Venus, or linked to a hitherto unknown mechanism affecting the upper atmosphere."

In other news an even better image of the ISS & the ATV hours after docking has been published, one should (in the Northern hemisphere) be on the watch-out for crescent Moons on the evenings of Apr. 6 (this will be very tough, esp. in Europe where the Moon will be a mere 14 hours old), 7 and 8, and there will be an attempt to reach the umbral zone of the August 1 total solar eclipse on Devon Island by making it through the Northwest Passage in a small sailing vessel.

• The NAM in Belfast is now over: Among the more unusual papers presented there were one on solar tomography to make the most of SOHO corona images and one on a possible MGS detection of a meteor shower on Mars, and there was a demonstration of new software for the AstroGrid VO. • There are also a new model for the Andromedid meteor storms in the 19th century, a splendid halo display (plus another one - note the weird comments ...) and a shaky but impressive video from a high-flying balloon - that feels like the descent imagery of Huygens in reverse ...

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