NASA rocket will measure the secret of life support of the Earth – a weak electric field

(ORDO NEWS) — Why does the Earth support life, but Venus and Mars – and, as far as we know, every other planet in the universe – do not?

“This is one of the most fundamental questions in all of science: Why are we here? And that’s what Endurance is after,” says Glyn Collinson, a scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and NASA’s Endurance mission principal investigator.

The Endurance mission will attempt to measure the Earth’s global electric potential, or how strongly the Earth’s electric field “pulls” electrically charged particles in our air.

This electrical potential is expected to be very weak, making it difficult to measure – and this is one of the reasons the Earth can support life. Endurance launch window from the small town of Ny-Ölesund in Svalbard, Norway,

Earth is a water planet, and this is one of the main reasons why life can exist on it. However, billions of years ago you could have said something similar about Venus.

Scientists believe that Venus was once much wetter than it is today, but for reasons we still don’t fully understand, it dried up. Finding out the reasons can point to a key difference from Earth and unlock the hidden ingredient for a habitable planet.

In 2016, the European Space Agency’s Venus Express mission found a clue. The spacecraft detected an electrical potential of 10 volts around the planet, which means that positively charged particles are drawn away from its surface.

Like a planetary vacuum cleaner, this electrical potential can suck out water components, such as positively charged oxygen, which is split off from hydrogen atoms by exposure to intense sunlight. Over time, this electrical potential may have played a role in diverting Venus’s water into space.

However, these finds made on Venus raised questions about the Earth. The electric potential of Venus is created by the ionosphere – the electrically charged outer layer of its atmosphere. But the Earth also has an ionosphere. So does the Earth have a similar electrical potential, and if so, why does our water still exist?

“We think one of the reasons the Earth might be habitable is because we have a very weak electrical potential,” Collinson said.

The Endurance team estimates that its strength is about 0.3 volts, which is about 25 times weaker than on Venus, and so weak that it has prevented all previous measurement attempts. “It’s weaker than a watch battery, but it should be there,” Collinson added.

With his team and rocket experiment, Collinson travels to the world’s northernmost launch site, located in Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean. There, his team will launch their experiment through the Earth’s north magnetic pole.

“We had to invent a completely new technology to do this on Earth, using a method that we first used on Venus,” Collinson said.

Once airborne, the Endurance mission will measure the electrons escaping Earth’s atmosphere, part of a gradual process of exit from the atmosphere that has been going on for billions of years.

These electrons leave the Earth at a certain, predictable rate, but they must be slowed down a bit by the Earth’s global electric potential. Collinson’s instruments will try to measure this subtle slowing effect to see how strong it is.

If all goes according to plan, these will be the first measurements of the Earth’s global electric potential.

“The reward, if we succeed, will be fantastic,” Collinson said. “Because we will measure this fundamental property of the Earth, which is directly related to understanding why we are here.”

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