The newest generation of spectroscopes will give scientists their best look yet at gases and winds in Venuss upper atmosphere during the planets first transit of the Sun in 122 years. (Courtesy NASA and the NSSDC)
On June 8 Earth-based solar telescopes will follow a tiny black orb as it appears to travel effortlessly across a wrinkled, brilliant sea. Timothy Brown, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), will not sit idly by as Venus traverses the Sun for the first time in 122 years at an angle visible from Earth. Peering through a specialized solar telescope in the Canary Islands, Brown will study the chemical composition and winds of Venus’s upper atmosphere, a region poorly observed until now. NCAR’s primary sponsor, the National Science Foundation (NSF), is funding the research.
An extrasolar planet expert at NCAR’s High Altitude Observatory (HAO), Brown has been applying a technique known as spectroscopy to piece together atmospheric data on a planet orbiting star HD209248, located 150 light years from Earth. He found sodium in the planet’s atmosphere in 2001 and is now searching for water and carbon monoxide. HAO director Michael Knölker, who specializes in precision solar spectroscopy, is a coinvestigator on the Venus project.
During next week’s transit, Brown will apply the same technique to examine regions of the solar spectrum that are strongly absorbed as they pass through Venus’s atmosphere between 65 and 85 kilometers (40 and 53 miles) altitude—a region above the planet’s thick cloud layer.
Anatta | UCAR
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