Humans have been observing the orbit of Venus for thousands of years. Since the Mariner and Venera missions of the 1960s, scientists also started taking a closer look at the planet. However, even after some five decades of studies, Venus still has many intriguing mysteries left in store.
However, recent expeditions from the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) are actually helping reveals some of the unknown facts about the planet’s mysterious night side.
Venus’s Mysterious Night Side, Closer to Being Understood
Venus is well known for its having a peculiar orbit. The planet rotates in retrograde, or counter-clockwise, and it does so very slowly. A single Venusian day lasts approximately 116 days – nearly four Earth months. The tilt of its axis is of only 3°, so there are no appreciable seasons either.
Also, clouds are one of the most extraordinary aspects of the planet. These circle the planet in just four Earth days as they travel at very high speeds, a phenomenon known as „super-rotation”.
ESA launched its Venus Express in 2005, the spacecraft orbiting the planet for eight years before concluding its mission in 2014. Scientists are still analyzing the data it gathered, but have already made some exciting discoveries. For the first time, researchers have a clear view of the planet’s mysterious night side.
Javier Peralta, one of the scientists at JAXA, reported, “We found that the cloud patterns there are different to those on the day side, and influenced by Venus’s topography.”
Scientists expected the super-rotation on the night side of the planet to match the patterns observed during the day. However, the data collected points to a number of significant differences. For example, scientists detected new types of cloud patterns, ones not found in the atmosphere of the day side of Venus. These also seem to indicate a different topography than the expected one or at least a different behavior of the clouds.
“This study challenges our current understanding of climate modeling and, specifically, the super-rotation, which is a key phenomenon seen at Venus,” states one of the Venus mission team members from ESA.
Much remains to be discovered and clarified following these latest findings. Current study results are available in a paper in the journal Nature AStronomy.
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