A team of astronomers announces the discovery of a real “wall of clouds” several thousand kilometers long moving around Venus. This is the first time that such a phenomenon has been observed in the Solar System.
Venus is a true atmospheric laboratory where everything runs to the extreme. And for good reason: its very thick envelope, which is made up almost entirely of carbon dioxide, spins sixty times faster than the planet itself. As a result, incredibly powerful winds can form. The average surface temperature is also very hot, estimated at 471 °C, and the atmospheric pressure is a hundred times that of Earth.
Never seen before in the Solar System
This special atmosphere is conducive to the formation of huge cloudy waves. One has just been discovered by a team from the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA), based on data from the Akatsuki orbiter, recorded between 2016 and 2018.
This characteristic looked a lot like an atmospheric wave. However, the structure appears to have formed much deeper than any other atmospheric wave ever seen on Venus, taking root between 47.5 and 56.5 km above sea level in the cloud layer responsible for the effect of greenhouse that makes the surface of the planet so hot.
In addition, the data shows that this 7,500-kilometer-long “wall of clouds” appears to be spinning east to west along the equator at over 328 kilometers per hour. In doing so, it makes a complete circle of the planet in 4.9 Earth days. For comparison, the other clouds found at these altitudes are a little slower, with a rotation period of about 5.7 days.
Also from the study, it also seems that this astonishing structure developed several decades ago, as early as 1983. However, astronomers still do not know what caused it.
“This atmospheric disturbance is a new meteorological phenomenon, invisible on other planets. For this reason, it is still difficult to provide a confident physical interpretation,” emphasizes Pedro Machado, of the Institute of Astrophysics and Space Sciences of Portugal. Other observations are underway to try to unravel this new atmospheric mystery.
Various projects underway
Despite these dire conditions, Venus is still the subject of research projects. The Indian space agency plans to send a probe around Venus in order to study its surface and atmosphere in more depth. The mission could see the light of day in 2023.
A few months ago, a team of researchers also proposed sending aircraft resembling flying rays to its atmosphere, with the aim of better understanding its composition.
Finally, NASA has been proposing a “return to the old” for several years, developing the Automaton Rover for Extreme Environments (AREE). It is a concept of an ultra-resistant and fully mechanical machine capable of exploring and studying different geological units on the surface of Venus.
And for good reason, no instrument sent there has managed to survive very long. The biggest feat goes to the Venera 13 probe, which managed to transmit 22 photos and analyze a Venusian rock in 1982. It resisted for 127 minutes before giving up its soul.