The Venus Atmosphere Is So Turbulent That It Can Change The Length Of The Planet’s Day

Posted: Jun 20 2018, 10:35pm CDT | by , in News | Latest Science News

 
The Venus Atmosphere is So Turbulent That It can Change the Length of the Planet’s Day
Venus imaged by the Magellan spacecraft. Credit: NASA/JPL

Scientists have found a possible explanation for why planet Venus has different day lengths.

Venus is often referred to as Earth’s twin. It is almost as large as Earth and has a similar surface composition. But there are some notable differences that make Venus a dynamic and unusual place. And much of this has to do with the rotation of Venus.

Venus is a slowly rotating planet. It takes about 243 Earth days for the planet to complete one rotation. In Earth's case, this process takes 24 hours. One would expect that the atmosphere of Venus will also rotate with the same rhythm. But prior research has shown that its atmosphere spins much faster and gets all the way around in just four Earth days. This phenomenon called, super-rotation, causes substantial turbulence in the planet's atmosphere.

For years, scientists have been frustrated by their inability to better understand the processes that drive these changes in the planet. But now they have a possible explanation for varying measurements of Venus's rotation rate. It appears that the interaction between the planet’s mountains and its atmosphere causes changes in the length of Venus’ day.

Last year, Japanese spacecraft Akatsuki reported the discovery of a strange, bow-shaped structure in the Venus’ atmosphere. The enormous structure extended 10,000 km and persisted through cloud tops despite rapidly moving winds. Researchers hypothesized that the structure was caused by a gravity wave. The similar waves have been seen on Earth due to air colliding with mountains. However, the atmosphere on Venus is incredibly thicker than Earths and that makes it very difficult to study the planet's surface. In the latest effort, researchers used simulation to recreate Venus atmosphere including cloud formations and mountains on its surface. The simulation did show a wave formed in the cloud tops, similar to that seen on the actual planet.

When fast winds blow against the mountains they could create waves strong enough to change the length of a Venus day by up to two minutes. Although exact measurements have varied by an average of seven minutes, the results are enough to suggest that other physical features could also be involved in the process.

“We estimate that mountain waves, along with the thermal tide and baroclinic waves, can produce a change in the rotation rate of the solid body of about 2 minutes per solar day,” Authors wrote in the study. “This interplay between the solid planet and atmosphere may explain some of the difference in rotation rates (equivalent to a change in the length of day of about 7 minutes) measured by spacecraft over the past 40 years.”

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