29 November 2007

Lightning around Venus

Every once in awhile beautiful theories are destroyed by stubborn facts.

Planetary astronomers are marking such a tragedy this week, it seems, at a conference in Paris.

It has long been understood that Venus is surrounded by clouds. But for a long time, the dominant view has been that there wasn't much activity in this atmosphere regardless - the clouds are a haze, like what we call smog -- not really earth-like clouds, capable of generating lightning and thunder. That's the theory.

A new probe has detected lightning, though. That's the fact.

To be a bit more precise, the probe detected bursts of radio waves, called "whistlers," which are only associated with lightning. On earth, anyway.

This leaves scientists with three choices. Either smog can in some unexplained way generate lightning on Venus. Or the clouds aren't smog -- they're real clouds. Or something else besides lightning can generate these radio waves.

However that debate comes out, things will be a little more complicated than they would have been had the data confirmed the pre-existing theories.

Party on, European Space Agency dudes.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.