Ashen light

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Ashen light is a hypothesised subtle glow that has been claimed to be seen coming from the night side of the planet Venus. Yet some claim it is of doubtful existence. Its causes remain controversial, but it seems that Ashen light is principally a dusk side phenomenon associated with lightning on Venus.[1]

History of observations[edit]

Ashen light was first sighted by the astronomer Giovanni Battista Riccioli on January 9, 1643, and he named it "The Ashen Light of Venus." Subsequent claims have been made by various observers including Sir William Herschel, Sir Patrick Moore, Dale P. Cruikshank, Nikolai Kozyrev and William K. Hartmann.[2][3] Ashen Light has been most often sighted when Venus was in the evening sky, when the evening terminator of the planet is toward the Earth.[2][4] However nobody has managed to capture an image of Ashen light.[4]

The Ashen light ought to be visible when a crescent Venus is occulted by a crescent Moon, such that the unilluminated portion of Venus can be seen against the dark side of the Moon, and with the illuminated portion of Venus being obscured. The first documented attempt was made on 2001 Jul 17 from the Marshall Islands, with a 67% Venus reappearing from behind a 13% Moon. None of the several visual observers (including those using two 61cm 'Super RADOTS' telescopes) reported seeing the ashen light. The event was also videoed, but the camera was too insensitive to detect even the earthshine.[5]

A particularly favourable instance occurred on 2015 October 8, with a 40% illuminated Venus reappearing from behind the unlit limb of a 15% sunlit Moon. The event was visible in dark skies throughout Central Australia and was recorded by David and Joan Dunham (of the International Occultation Timing Association) using a 10" f/4 Newtonian with a Watec 120N+ video camera from a location just north of Alice Springs. They also observed the event visually with an 8" SCT telescope. Neither the real-time visual observation nor close visual inspection of the video recording showed any sign of the dark side of Venus.[6] While not conclusive, these observations suggest the ashen light is more likely attributable to telescope optics and eye physiology rather than atmospheric phenomena on Venus.

The Keck telescope on Hawaii reported seeing a subtle green glow and suggested it could be produced as ultraviolet light from the Sun splits molecules of carbon dioxide (CO
), known to be common in Venus' atmosphere, into carbon monoxide (CO) and oxygen (O
), but the green light emitted as oxygen recombines to form O
is thought too faint to explain the effect,[4] and it is too faint to have been observed with amateur telescopes.[7]


In 1967, Venera 4 found the Venusian magnetic field to be much weaker than that of Earth. This magnetic field is induced by an interaction between the ionosphere and the solar wind,[8][9] rather than by an internal dynamo in the core like the one inside Earth. Venus's small induced magnetosphere provides negligible protection to the atmosphere against cosmic radiation. This radiation may result in cloud-to-cloud lightning discharges.[10]

It was hypothesized in 1957 by Urey and Brewer that CO+, CO2+ and O2- ions produced by the ultraviolet radiation from the Sun were the cause of the glow.[11] In 1969, it was hypothesized that the Ashen light is an auroral phenomena due to solar particle bombardment on the dark side of Venus.[12]

Throughout the 1980s, it was thought that the cause of the glow was lightning on Venus.[13] The Soviet Venera 9 and 10 orbiters obtained optical and electromagnetic evidence of lightning on Venus.[1][14] Also, the Pioneer Venus Orbiter recorded visible airglow at Venus in 1978 strong enough to saturate its star sensor.[1] The European Space Agency's Venus Express in 2007 detected whistler waves further confirming the occurrence of lightning on Venus.[15][16] In 1990, Christopher T. Russell and J. L. Phillips gave further support to the lightning hypothesis, stating that if there are several strikes on the night side of the planet, in a sufficiently short period of time, the sequence may give off an overall glow in the skies of Venus.[1]

However, a Monte Carlo simulation program, indicates that the lightning hypothesis as the cause of the glow is incorrect, as not enough light could be transmitted through the atmosphere to be seen from Earth.[17] Observers have speculated it may be illusory, resulting from the physiological effect of observing a bright, crescent-shaped object.[18] Some spacecraft looking for it have not been able to spot it — leading some astronomers to believe that it is just an enduring myth.[3]


  1. ^ a b c d Russell, C. T.; Phillips, J. L. (1990). "The Ashen Light". Advances in Space Research 10 (5): 137–141. Bibcode:1990AdSpR..10..137R. doi:10.1016/0273-1177(90)90174-X. 
  2. ^ a b Gingrich, M.; Myers, E. (Mar 2001). "The Paradoxical Ashen Light of Venus". Bulletin (Oakland, CA: The Eastbay Astronomical Society) 77 (7). 
  3. ^ a b Inglis-Arkell, Esther (27 June 2013). "The four-hundred-year mystery of the Ashen Light of Venus". iO9. Retrieved 2015-09-05. 
  4. ^ a b c Winder, Jenny (April 27, 2012). "The Mystery of Venus’ Ashen Light". Universe Today. Retrieved 2015-09-05. 
  5. ^ 2001 Jul 17 Reappearance of Venus from the Marshall Islands, by Peter Rejcek. See page 8. Retrieved 2015-10-25.
  6. ^ 2015 October 8 Reappearance of Venus from Australia, by Dunham D.W. & J.B. (2015-Oct-08).
  7. ^ "Jan. 9, 1643: Astronomer Sees Ashen Light on Venus". Wired Science. 9 January 2009. Retrieved 2015-09-05. 
  8. ^ Dolginov, Nature of the Magnetic Field in the Neighborhood of Venus, COsmic Research, 1969
  9. ^ Kivelson G. M.; Russell, C. T. (1995). "Introduction to Space Physics". Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-45714-9. 
  10. ^ Upadhyay, H. O.; Singh, R. N. (April 1995). "Cosmic ray Ionization of Lower Venus Atmosphere". Advances in Space Research 15 (4): 99–108. Bibcode:1995AdSpR..15...99U. doi:10.1016/0273-1177(94)00070-H. 
  11. ^ Some Topics in Molecular Astronomy. McKellar, A. Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 54, p.97. Bibliographic Code: 1960JRASC..54...97M
  12. ^ Levine, Joel S. (June 1969). "The Ashen Light: An auroral phenomenon on Venus". Planetary and Space Science 1 (6): 1081–1087. Retrieved 2015-09-05. 
  13. ^ Ksanfomaliti, L. V. (20 March 1980). "Discovery of frequent lightning discharges in clouds on Venus". Nature 284: 244 – 246. Bibcode:1980Natur.284..244K. doi:10.1038/284244a0. Retrieved 2015-09-05. 
  14. ^ V. A. Krasnopol'skii, Lightning on Venus according to information obtained by the satellites Venera 9 and 10. Kosmich. Issled. 18, 429-434 (1980).
  15. ^ Russell, C. T.; Zhang, T. L.; Delva, M.; Magnes, W.; Strangeway, R. J.; Wei, H. Y. (29 November 2007). "Lightning on Venus inferred from whistler-mode waves in the ionosphere" (PDF). Nature 450 (7170): 661–662. Bibcode:2007Natur.450..661R. doi:10.1038/nature05930. PMID 18046401. 
  16. ^ "Venus also zapped by lightning". CNN. 29 November 2007. Archived from the original on 30 November 2007. Retrieved 2007-11-29. 
  17. ^ Williams, Mark A.; Thomason, Larry W.; Hunten, Donald M. (October 1982). "The transmission to space of the light produced by lightning in the clouds of Venus". Icarus 52 (1): 166–170. Bibcode:1982Icar...52..166W. doi:10.1016/0019-1035(82)90176-2. Retrieved 2015-09-05. 
  18. ^ Baum, R. M. (2000). "The enigmatic ashen light of Venus: an overview". Journal of the British Astronomical Association 110: 325. Bibcode:2000JBAA..110..325B.