A Frigid Surprise at Venus’ Poles

By John Wenz | April 20, 2016 10:31 am

Venus_Express_aerobraking

Thanks to a thick layer of cloud cover trapping in heat, Venus is the hottest planet in our solar system, with temperatures boiling over at 850 degrees Fahrenheit (454 C). But in a study published last week in Nature Physics, the European Space Agency found something surprising at the planet’s poles: temperatures more frigid than anywhere on Earth.

Even though ESA lost contact with the Venus Express probe two years ago after it ran out of fuel, the agency is still working through the data it returned. As the first spacecraft to explore our nearest neighbor since 1989’s Magellan mission, the probe revealed much about that world. Many of the observations were made through plunging the craft into the atmosphere above the poles, where the probe encountered an atmosphere thinner than previously modeled, and filled with choppy atmospheric gravity waves, ripples caused by transfers of momentum between layers in the atmosphere.

“Concerning uniformity — models are mostly rather smooth while the reality is much more complex and structured,” ESA scientist and lead author Ingo Müller-Wodarg of Imperial College London said in an email to Astronomy. “We found enormous variability in the atmospheric densities that is explained by a combination of local (horizontal) day-night density variations but above all by strong periodicities, atmospheric waves. These are not captured by models.”

This marks the first time the poles of Venus have been directly studied, owing to Venus Express’ circumpolar orbit, which also allowed a global view. By crashing the probe through these winds on its final descent, the probe made the first ever in-situ observations of polar climates on Venus.

The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency has a probe in orbit around Venus called Akatsuki, but it will mostly study the climate closer to the planet’s equator, hoping to determine what caused the runaway greenhouse effect. Müller-Wodarg pointed out in his email that previous atmospheric models relied on equatorial data from the Pioneer Venus mission, which led to incorrect uniformity modeling of the atmosphere. NASA is mulling several missions as part of its Discovery program, one of which, VERITAS, will map the entire surface of the planet, and could tell us more about the geology of the poles.

Müller-Wodarg added that there may be some relation between the choppy gravity waves (which are a separate phenomenon from the much-heralded LIGO study) and geologic activity on the ground near the poles, but it would require further investigation to determine that.

“We can make observations from the ground (and these are continuously being done) but the real motivation would be to launch a new spacecraft to Venus over the coming decade which could explore the polar atmosphere in-situ,” Müller-Wodarg said.

This post first appeared on Astronomy.com. Read the original here

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  • ERNEST VICTOR VALLEJO

    THAT LOOKS LIKE SOME WAR EQUIPMENT I INVENTED TO FLY WITH SPACE ROCKET S BUT WITH ENGINES OF BETTER BUT IN LIKE SHOES , SUIT… MASK LIKE GORILLAS,, OF ANY KIND ACTUALLY AND JAWS TO BITE THROUGH METAL SINCE MAY 1 1998 99 WHILE INVENTING UFO’S, NEW ROCKET SPACE NASA ENGINES.. WAR THINGS PLUS..

    • Kurt S

      What??? How in the heck does one invent an unidentified flying object (ufo). If you invented it, it would be identified!

      • OWilson

        Back in the 60s it was a cottage industry.

        We would toss up plates, frisbees and photograph them against the skyline. The slow Ilford 120 film produced the requisite blurring so a lot was left to their very fertile imaginations.

        We even had a nighttime version on a wire frame that involved candles and a plastic bag.

        The point being that, folks would insist they were alien visitors, even after we told them it was a hoax.

        Folks will only see what they want to see.

        • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

          Oxies! Dark of night, big dry cleaner’s bag, hydrogen plus air (or oxygen if you are crazy), and a long slow burning fuse. One scamp tried neat acetylene (MW = 26 vs. 29 for air). Impressive – but very slow to rise. We also tried a nice helium latex balloon trailing a length of cheap (thin) aluminum foil from a horizontal dowel to spread it. Daytime optically interesting, radarly inadvisable.

          Venus already has dense vastly reflective clouds, serving as the perfect model to end terrestrial Global Warming by opacifying the stratosphere.

          • OWilson

            I should have known.

            You were the pros. :)

  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

    European Space Agency found something surprising at the planet’s poles: temperatures more frigid than anywhere on Earth.” Where is the meat? The following 386 words maunder about kelvin-Helmholtz atmospheric periodicities and crap. Dump a lander at high latitudes, declare Cytherean I, and propose human colonization. Venus makes a boatload more sense than diddling Mars. Venus is bursting with atmosphere (easy landing) and resources. All Venus lacks is a human-hospitable surface temperature zone- now claimed. Start making babies (blow the minds of astrologists) and terraforming.

  • Mike Richardson

    As the original journal article in Nature Physics clarified, these temperatures were measured in the thermosphere, at an altitude of between 130-140 km. I imagine the temperature at mean ground level at the poles is a lot closer to the lead-melting temperatures elsewhere. But there are regions of Venus’ atmosphere that are much more temperate, as long as you can maintain a proper altitude and not drop below the cloud deck.

  • EquusMtn

    Agreed that the headline and first paragraph are very misleading. I’m sure you can find every imaginable temperature between near 0 K and lead-melting at some altitude above Venus. Where’s the surprise that it’s cold at 140 km?

  • http://bossy-girls.net/ Lila Sovietskaya

    misleading title. It is not the ground that is frigid, its the clouds

    • M1k3G

      Interesting comment. Do you have a link or source?

  • Arttai

    Looks like there is an habitable zone at Venuce the poles and surrounding it. Definitely places where we can land. Pressure is not so much an issue for earth crafts as is temperature.

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