Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Lightning on Venus inferred from whistler-mode waves in the ionosphere


The occurrence of lightning in a planetary atmosphere enables chemical processes to take place that would not occur under standard temperatures and pressures1,2,3. Although much evidence has been reported for lightning on Venus4,5,6,7,8, some searches have been negative9,10,11 and the existence of lightning has remained controversial. A definitive detection would be the confirmation of electromagnetic, whistler-mode waves propagating from the atmosphere to the ionosphere. Here we report observations of Venus’ ionosphere that reveal strong, circularly polarized, electromagnetic waves with frequencies near 100 Hz. The waves appear as bursts of radiation lasting 0.25 to 0.5 s, and have the expected properties of whistler-mode signals generated by lightning discharges in Venus’ clouds.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Examples of the wave events.
Figure 2: Propagation of the signals.


  1. Desch, S. J., Borucki, W. J., Russell, C. T. & Bar-Nun, A. Progress in planetary lightning. Rep. Prog. Phys. 65, 955–997 (2002)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Krasnopolsky, V. A. A sensitive search for nitric oxide in the lower atmosphere of Venus and Mars: Detection on Venus and upper limit for Mars. Icarus 192, 80–91 (2006)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Bar-Nun, A. Production of carbon and nitrogen species by thunderstorms on Venus. Icarus 42, 338–342 (1990)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Ksanfomaliti, L. V. Electrical activity of the atmosphere of Venus, I. Measurements on descending probes. Kosmich. Issled. 21, 279–296 (1983)

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  5. Krasnopol’sky, V. A. Lightning and nitric oxide on Venus. Planet. Space Sci. 31, 1363–1369 (1983)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Russell, C. T. & Scarf, F. L. Evidence for lightning on Venus. Adv. Space Res. 10, 125–136 (1990)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Gurnett, D. A. et al. Lightning and plasma wave observations from the Galileo flyby of Venus. Science 253, 1522–1525 (1991)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Hansell, S. A., Wells, W. K. & Hunten, D. M. Optical detection of lightning on Venus. Icarus 117, 345–351 (1995)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Sagdeev, R. Z. et al. Overview of VEGA Venus balloon in-situ meteorological measurements. Science 231, 1411–1414 (1986)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Borucki, W. J., Dyer, J. W., Phillips, J. R. & Pham, P. Pioneer Venus Orbiter search for Venusian lightning. J. Geophys. Res. A 96, 11033–11043 (1991)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Gurnett, D. A. et al. Non-detection at Venus of high-frequency radio signals characteristic of terrestrial lightning. Nature 409, 313–315 (2001)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Zhang, T. L. et al. Magnetic field investigation of the Venus plasma environment: Expected new results from Venus Express. Planet. Space Sci. 54, 1336–1343 (2006)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Russell, C. T., von Dornum, M. & Strangeway, R. J. VLF bursts in the night ionosphere of Venus: Estimates of the Poynting flux. Geophys. Res. Lett. 16, 579–582 (1989)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Russell, C. T., Von Dornum, M. & Scarf, F. L. Impulsive signals in the night ionosphere of Venus: Comparison of results obtained below the local electron gyro frequency with those above. Adv. Space Res. 10, 37–40 (1990)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Russell, C. T. Planetary lightning. Annu. Rev. Earth Planet. Sci. 21, 43–87 (1993)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


This work was supported by NASA and the Austrian Academy of Science.

Author Contributions T.L.Z. is the Principal Investigator of the Venus Express magnetometer. M.D. led the development of the gradiometer technique used, and assisted in calibration and commissioning of the magnetometer. W.M. was the engineer responsible for the successful implementation of the investigation, and R.J.S. provided guidance in the design, based on Pioneer Venus observations.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to C. T. Russell.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Russell, C., Zhang, T., Delva, M. et al. Lightning on Venus inferred from whistler-mode waves in the ionosphere. Nature 450, 661–662 (2007).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing