Lightning measurements from the Pioneer Venus Orbiter


  • F. L. Scarf,

  • C. T. Russell


The plasma wave instrument on the Pioneer Venus Orbiter frequently detects strong and impulsive low-frequency signals when the spacecraft traverses the nightside ionosphere near periapsis. These particular noise bursts appear only when the local magnetic field is strong and steady and when the field is oriented to point down to the ionosphere thus; the signals have all characteristics of lightning whistlers. We have tried to identify lightning sources between the cloud layers and the planet itself by tracing rays along the B-field from the Orbiter down toward the surface. An extensive data set, consisting of measurements through Orbit 1185, strongly indicates a clustering of lightning sources near the Beta and Phoebe Regios, with an additional significant cluster near the Atla Regio at the eastern edge of Aphrodite Terra. These results suggest that there are localized lightning sources at or near the planetary surface.