Venus is kind of like Earth — if Earth had an average temperature of 864 degrees Fahrenheit and was shrouded in a toxic carbon dioxide atmosphere swirled with sulfuric clouds. Now scientists have found out something even weirder about it that could pass as the ninth circle of hell in Dante’s Inferno.
While Venus holds as many secrets as its namesake goddess, the mystery behind its rotational speeds, which have gradually been getting faster, is one of the most baffling. Previous studies found that a solar day on Venus decreased by seven minutes in about as many years. New research suggests that what is really behind the changes in velocity is the planet’s atmosphere, which is blasted by winds over 200 mph and so thick that it actually pushes against mountains, forcing the planet to accelerate.
That’s right. The atmosphere of Venus is thick enough to to pwn even its mountains. Intense winds blow over the tops of these mountains, causing strong “mountain waves” that exert pressure on the surface to propel the planet. While a similar phenomenon happens on Earth, it isn’t nearly as extreme.
“We know that Venus’s atmosphere is extremely dense, but it is amazing to think that the atmosphere could actually be contributing to the observed changing rotation rate of the solid planet,” NASA Planetary Science Division director Lori Glaze told Cosmos Magazine.
When the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) sent its Akatsuki spacecraft to the forbidding planet in 2015, it observed a monster 6,200-mile-long atmospheric gravity wave that refused to go anywhere despite the fact that the Venusian atmosphere was moving at breakneck speed. While gravity waves are known to occur on Earth when air is pushed upward and then pulled down by gravity, how they happen on Venus is still something alien. The gravity waves that were observed by Akatsuki should have been impossible.
“There is a torque from the atmosphere onto the solid body that speeds up the rotation rate of the body itself," UCLA planetary scientist Thomas Navarro also told Cosmos. “We suspect that the rotation rate of Venus constantly varies.”
So Venus isn’t just rotating ridiculously fast, but also variably. How fast just needs to be proven. The problem is, those toxic clouds are everywhere, making it extremely difficult to measure the exact rate of rotation. Two different spacecraft beamed two shockingly different results back to Earth. Navarro, who recently published a study in the journal Nature Geoscience, is searching for a way to demystify the erratic Venusian atmosphere.
Just think—we haven’t even explored the poisonous wonders below the atmosphere, but NASA could change that.