60-Second Science

Non-Abbie Hoffman Radical Found on Venus

A radical--a highly reactive chemical--found in Venus's atmosphere will help planetary scientists better understand the planet. Steve Mirsky explains, with reporting by Harvey Black.

[The following is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

On June 4th, we told you about iron snowflakes on Mercury. Today we have some radical news about the atmosphere of Venus. Literally. A radical is a molecule that reacts easily with other chemicals because of an unpaired electron. Astronomers have found the hydroxyl radical in the Venusian atmosphere. Hydroxyl is oxygen with a single hydrogen, H1O, if you like.


The Venus Express Probe discovered hydroxyl in the clouds that shroud the planet. Researchers from the European Space Agency announced the finding in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics Letters. Hydroxyl’s important on earth because it promotes the formation of ground level ozone, a pollutant. Finding the radical on Venus will help scientists test their models of Venus’s atmosphere. Hydroxyl also exists in the thin Martian astmosphere, where it’s thought to stabilize carbon dioxide and prevent it from becoming carbon monoxide. It may also be responsible for sterilizing the red planet’s top layers of soil.

—Steve Mirsky, with reporting by Harvey Black

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