Venus: Density of Upper Atmosphere from Measurements of Drag on Pioneer Orbiter

Science  23 Feb 1979:
Vol. 203, Issue 4382, pp. 775-777
DOI: 10.1126/science.203.4382.775


Measurements of the changes in orbital period of the Pioneer Venus orbiter have yielded estimates of the density of the upper atmosphere of Venus at altitudes in the range from 150 to 200 kilometers. At the lower limit of this range, the density on the dayside of the terminator exhibits a temporal variation of amplitude near 4 x 10–14 gram per cubic centimeter aboult a mean of approximately 1.4 x 10–13 gram per cubic centimeter. The variation appears oscillatory, with a 4- to 5-day period, but barely one cycle was observed. The density on the nightside of the terminator, sampled inthe same 150-kilometer altitude range, fluctuates about a smaller mean of approximately 4 x 10–14 gram per cubic centimeter. The density between the altitudes of 150 and 200 kilometers, sampled only on the dayside of the terminator, imply a scale height of between 15 and 20 kilometers. The interpretation of this estimate is uncertain, however, in view of the measurements at the different altitudes having been made at different times and, hence, at different values of solar phase.

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