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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.

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

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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.

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Correspondence to C. T. Russell.

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

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