Some of the most notable scientific discoveries were made by mistake while the researchers were looking for something else. A test that sought to ensure the proper functionality of the tools employed by MESSENGER (Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry, and Ranging) evolved into a study that revealed valuable information about Venus and its atmosphere.
A team of researchers has published a new paper that describes an unexpected rise in the level of nitrogen at an altitude of 30 kilometers above the surface of Venus, proving that the atmosphere of the planet isn’t uniform. The new data contradicted a theory that had been accepted by the scientific community for several decades.
The saga began in June 2007, with Messenger preparing for its second flyby above Venus. Everything seemed to go well, and the team responsible for the instruments decided to run a series of tests and collect some data.
Venus’ Atmosphere Studied By MESSENGER By Accident
One of the team members handled the neutron spectrometer, a tool that can detect the number of neutrons released into space by cosmic rays, which collide with the molecules that are present in the atmosphere and surface of a planet. Its purpose was to find neutrons that come from hydrogen atoms present in water molecules.
With the help of this tool, NASA confirmed that frozen water could be found in the craters present within Mercury’s poles. While the spacecraft was over Venus, the researchers wanted to see if the device worked, and the data that was collected remained shelved for three years. In the 2010, the researchers and another scientist decided to revisit the data.
An advanced computer simulation offered a wealth of synthetic information, which was then compared to the data collected by MESSENGER. The results showed that the concentration of nitrogen tends to climb at higher altitudes on Venus, but the cause of the phenomenon remains elusive for now.