Short-Term Cyclic Variations and Diurnal Variations of the Venus Upper Atmosphere

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Science  06 Jul 1979:
Vol. 205, Issue 4401, pp. 62-64
DOI: 10.1126/science.205.4401.62


Measurements of satellite drag obtained from the orbital decay of the Pioneer Venus orbiter on the nightside of Venus indicate an atomic oxygen atmosphere near 155 kilometers (an order of magnitude less dense than expected) with nighttime inferred exospheric temperatures averaging as low as 110 K. Densities at these altitudes decrease sharply from day to night, contrary to the predicted nighttime oxygen bulge. This decrease may be indicative of an unexpectedly weak transport across the evening terminator or a very strong heat sink at night that is possibly related to vertical eddy heat transport. Large periodic oscillations in density and inferred exospheric temperature are detected with a period of 5 to 6 days. We have subsequently discovered temperature variations of the same period in the stratosphere, which are tentatively interpreted as planetary-scale waves that may propagate upward producing the periodic variations in the thermosphere and exosphere. The peak-to-peak amplitude of the temperature oscillations associated with these waves apparently increases with altitude approximately as follows: 1 K (70 kilometers), 3 K (90 kilometers), 40 K (155 kilometers). Inferred nighttime exospheric temperatures are found to be asymmetric relative to midnight, minimizing on the morning side. The possibility of superrotation of the thermosphere, and exosphere is discussed.