Atmospheric tidal waves maintain Venus’ super-rotation

Apr 28, 2020 | Venus

Atmospheric tidal waves maintain Venus’ super-rotation
Images from the Akatsuki spacecraft unveil what keeps Venus’s atmosphere rotating much faster than the planet itself. CREDIT: NASA/JPL

While unrelated to Peplowski’s work, our first story starts at Venus. This world is currently orbited by  a Japanese mission called Akatsuki. Also called the Venus Climate Orbiter, this space probe is studying how the different layers of Venus’ opaque clouds are structured and flowing.

One of odder mysteries of this world is how it ended up with clouds that flow rapidly around a world whose day is longer than its year. For every single Venusian day, the wind cycles 60 times. To be fair, the Venusian day is 243 Earth days long, but this rapid wind circulation is still inexplicably fast. Or at least it was inexplicable. We may start to have a beginning of understanding.

Takeshi Horinouchi of Hokkaido University, developed a new method to track clouds and wind velocities.  Winds are generally driven by pressure and temperature variations, as air flows from high pressure to low pressure regions. On Venus, the temperature structure is particularly complex because there is a gradual temperature gradient from the cool poles to the hot equator. There is also a dramatic gradient between the day and night sides of the planet. These variations drive to massive atmospheric cells that from pole to equator that are complimented by a massive equatorial flow.  This super rotating circulation pushes the clouds in what is poetically referred to as a tidal wave of cloud.

While Venus isn’t tidally locked to the Sun, its slow rotation is a good approximation, and the work being done to understand Venus’ atmosphere will aid in our modeling of what happens on those alien worlds. This work is published in new research published in Science magazine.


Atmospheric tidal waves maintain Venus’ super-rotation (Hokkaido U)


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