Planetary atmospheres, including Earth’s own, are not impermeable and suffer from leakage into the vacuum of space, leading to a loss of atmospheric material. Earth, for instance, loses about 90 tonnes of atmospheric material daily. This phenomenon provides valuable insights into the evolution of other planets, such as Venus. Once believed to resemble Earth with temperate conditions and liquid water, Venus has transformed into a scorching inferno with a thick atmosphere of carbon dioxide and sulfuric acid rain. Recent findings have indicated the leakage of carbon and oxygen atoms from Venus, aligning with previous discoveries of hydrogen loss. Understanding the escape mechanisms and characteristics of heavy ions at Venus is crucial to unraveling the planet’s atmospheric evolution and the disappearance of its water content.

Despite being Earth’s closest orbital neighbor and sharing similarities with our planet, Venus remains largely unexplored. Only one dedicated mission, the Akatsuki orbiter, is currently studying Venus up close since 2010. However, other spacecraft on different missions have observed Venus during their operations. The BepiColombo mission, a collaboration between the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency and the European Space Agency to study Mercury, conducted two close flybys of Venus in 2020 and 2021. The second flyby enabled the probe to explore a previously uncharted magnetic region around Venus, shedding light on the planet’s magnetic field generation and interaction with the solar wind.

Venus’s magnetic field differs from Earth’s, as it arises from the interaction of charged particles in the upper atmosphere with magnetic fields and moving ions in the solar wind. The weak magnetosphere forms a teardrop shape around the planet, with a tail extending away due to the solar wind. BepiColombo’s instruments detected oxygen and carbon ions escaping Venus’s gravity, a significant finding that raises questions about the acceleration mechanisms at play. The observed positively charged carbon ions escaping from Venus’s atmosphere are typically slow-moving, prompting further investigation into the potential electrostatic or centrifugal processes responsible for their acceleration.

Future Missions and Unanswered Questions

Several upcoming missions aim to deepen our understanding of Venus, focusing on crucial aspects such as the carbon escape mechanism, volcanic activity, potential presence of life, and the planet’s transformation from a habitable world to its current state. These missions hold the promise of unraveling longstanding mysteries surrounding Venus’s atmospheric evolution and water loss. Recent research suggests that atmospheric escape alone cannot account for the total loss of historical water content on Venus, emphasizing the need for further exploration and study to unlock the planet’s secrets.

The leaky atmosphere of Venus serves as a window into the planet’s tumultuous history and transformation from a hospitable world to a hostile environment. By leveraging spacecraft missions and advanced instruments, scientists continue to uncover new insights into Venus’s atmospheric dynamics and evolution. The ongoing quest to understand Venus holds the potential to not only expand our knowledge of planetary science but also shed light on the broader processes shaping our solar system.

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