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article imageRainbow on Venus: ESA captures 'Glory' on Instagram

By Layne Weiss     Mar 12, 2014 in Science
Paris - A rainbow-like item called a "glory" was identified in Venus Tuesday (March 11) by the European Space Agency. This is the first time a glory has been "fully imaged"on another planet.
"A full glory has never been seen before outside of the terrestrial environment," says Wojciech Markiewicz of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Gottingen, Germany, who was part of the team that identified the glory.
Both rainbows and glories transpire when sunlight shines on cloud droplets, which consist of water particles on Earth, and are believed to contain sulphuric acid on Venus, ESA reports.
Ordinary rainbows arch across the sky while glories can only be viewed from above. They are much smaller and look like small concentric circles, which the New Scientist says is similar to a "saint's halo."
In order to see a glory, the observer must be positioned directly between the sun and cloud particles that are reflecting sunlight, ESA reports.
Glories can also be seen from Earth, usually from airplanes surrounding the shadow of the aircraft on the clouds or around the shadows of climbers of hazy mountain tops.
Through imaging the clouds on Venus with the sun directly behind ESA's Venus Express Orbiter, scientists were hoping to see a glory, so that they could determine essential characteristics of cloud droplets.
In 2011, Wojciech Markiewicz and his team used the ESA's Venus Express spacecraft to hunt for glories on Venus. They found one on July 24, and reported their findings in the journal Icarus in February. The glory they spotted was 1200 km wide, which means that the particles at the cloud tops are all the same size, the New Scientist reports.
The team learned that it takes more than just sulphuric acid droplets, to explain how glories occur, but droplets coated with elemental sulphur or mixed with ferric chloride offer a better interpretation.
The glory was originally seen at the Venus cloud tops 70km above the planet as seen from the ESA's Venus Express 6,000 miles away, the Huff Post reports.
On March 11, 2014, the ESA was able to capture an image of the glory.
"The variations of brightness of the rings of the observed glory is different than that expected from clouds of only sulphuric acid mixed with water, suggesting that other chemistry may be at play," The ESA said.
"One idea is that the cause is the 'UV-absorber,' an unknown atmospheric component responsible for mysterious dark markings seen in the cloud tops of Venus at ultraviolet wavelengths. More investigation is needed to draw a firm conclusion."
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