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How waves and turbulence maintain the super-rotation of Venus’ atmosphere

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Science  24 Apr 2020:
Vol. 368, Issue 6489, pp. 405-409
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaz4439

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Explaining super-rotation on Venus

The solid surface of Venus rotates very slowly, once every 243 days, but its thick atmosphere circles the planet in just 4 days. This phenomenon, known as super-rotation, requires a continuous input of angular momentum, from an unknown source, to overcome friction with the surface. Horinouchi et al. mapped the planet's winds using ultraviolet observations of Venus' clouds from the orbiting Akatsuki spacecraft (see the Perspective by Lebonnois). They incorporated these data into a global model of angular momentum transport in the atmosphere, finding that the super-rotation is maintained through thermal tides driven by solar heating.

Science, this issue p. 405; see also p. 363

Abstract

Venus has a thick atmosphere that rotates 60 times as fast as the surface, a phenomenon known as super-rotation. We use data obtained from the orbiting Akatsuki spacecraft to investigate how the super-rotation is maintained in the cloud layer, where the rotation speed is highest. A thermally induced latitudinal-vertical circulation acts to homogenize the distribution of the angular momentum around the rotational axis. Maintaining the super-rotation requires this to be counteracted by atmospheric waves and turbulence. Among those effects, thermal tides transport the angular momentum, which maintains the rotation peak, near the cloud top at low latitudes. Other planetary-scale waves and large-scale turbulence act in the opposite direction. We suggest that hydrodynamic instabilities adjust the angular-momentum distribution at mid-latitudes.

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