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Nature. 2001 Jan 18;409(6818):313-5.

Non-detection at Venus of high-frequency radio signals characteristic of terrestrial lightning.

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  • 1Department of Physics and Astronomy, The University of Iowa, Iowa City 52242, USA. donald-gurnett@uiowa.edu


The detection of impulsive low-frequency (10 to 80 kHz) radio signals, and separate very-low-frequency (approximately 100 Hz) radio 'whistler' signals provided the first evidence for lightning in the atmosphere of Venus. Later, a small number of impulsive high-frequency (100 kHz to 5.6 MHz) radio signals, possibly due to lightning, were also detected. The existence of lightning at Venus has, however, remained controversial. Here we report the results of a search for high-frequency (0.125 to 16 MHz) radio signals during two close fly-bys of Venus by the Cassini spacecraft. Such signals are characteristic of terrestrial lightning, and are commonly heard on AM (amplitude-modulated) radios during thunderstorms. Although the instrument easily detected signals from terrestrial lightning during a later fly-by of Earth (at a global flash rate estimated to be 70 s(-1), which is consistent with the rate expected for terrestrial lightning), no similar signals were detected from Venus. If lightning exists in the venusian atmosphere, it is either extremely rare, or very different from terrestrial lightning.

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