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Venus mountains create wave trains

Posted January 23, 2014
Venus mountains create wave trains
Wave trains on Venus. Credit: ESA/Venus Express/VMC/A. Credit: Piccialli et al., 2014.
The planet Venus is blanketed by high-level clouds. At visible wavelengths, individual cloud features are difficult to see, but observations made by instruments on ESA’s Venus Express orbiter have revealed many small-scale wave trains. Analysis shows that the waves are mostly found at high northern latitudes, particularly above Ishtar Terra, a continent-sized region that includes the highest mountains on the planet.

Venus is a world of contrasts. On the surface, the temperature reaches 450°C (723.15 K), hot enough to melt lead, while winds in the dense atmosphere blow at a sluggish 3-4 km/h. At the cloud tops, temperatures are a frigid -70°C (203.15 K), but wind speeds reach 300-400 km/h, much faster than hurricanes on Earth.

It might be expected, therefore, that there is little connection between the baking atmosphere close to the ground and the upper atmosphere, some 60-70 km above. However, spacecraft observations over several decades indicate that the relationship more resembles an ‘ocean-like’ lower atmosphere, topped by an opaque cloud layer which acts like the surface of the ocean. Ripples and air currents visible at the cloud tops provide hints about processes and influences far below.

Early evidence of atmospheric waves being generated by air flowing over major topographic features came in 1985, when two Soviet Vega balloons flying at an altitude of 54 km experienced a bumpy ride above the southern uplands of Aphrodite Terra.

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