There’s something new going on out there in the stars.
Scientists have discovered what looks like a massive ripple across the face of Venus, a planet in our solar system that’s second closest to the sun. Shortly after entering Venus’ orbit in December of 2015, a Japanese space exploration vehicle known as the ‘Akatsuki Orbiter’ captured a rare atmospheric phenomenon – gravity waves on the upper cloud layer of the planet.
Gravity waves are not gravitational waves
If you know a little bit about gravitational waves, or read about the breathtaking discovery that made history last year – then you’d understand that they are caused by colliding black holes. But gravity waves are different. They are something you can see with your naked eyes. Think about a wave propagated on the surface of a liquid or any other fluid through effects of gravity.
Gravity waves can appear in the clouds, in the oceans, and are caused when a body of water or the atmosphere is disturbed. For instance, when air flows over a mountain range, or tides flow over a sandbar, gravity tries to restore the equilibrium, as a result of which it overshoots and causes a wave effect.
So, what caused the 10,000-kilometer wave across the Venetian surface? As atmospheric clouds constituting dense Sulphuric acid rotated faster than the planet itself, surface topography details are likely to cause disturbances that resulted in massive gravity waves.
In the solar system, each planet has its own rarities, but the Venus observation was downright weird. The planet is often described as the earth’s twin since it’s roughly the same size and is rocky as well. However, it’s also very different. Venus has a massively thick atmosphere composed of over 96% carbon dioxide, creating a massive greenhouse effect. The planet is also very hot, with surface temperatures averaging over 462 degrees Celsius. In this extreme heat, surface probes that have previously been sent to Venus never lasted more than an hour. That’s precisely why scientists prefer to use orbiters such as the Akatsuki to make observations from a distance.
The wave that Akatsuki orbiter captured was located over a rugged, continent-size highland known as the Aphrodite Terra. Nonetheless, the astonishing thing is that the gravity waves were able to move into the uppermost cloud layers. According to scientists who are assigned to the mission, there are likely to be more complex dynamics to this phenomenon other than just the planet’s surface topography.
The Japanese team plans to make further observations as the orbiter continues its mission around Venus over the next five years.