Venus is blanketed by clouds. They cover the entire planet — there’s not a single hole in them to provide a view of the surface below. Clouds at the top of the atmosphere are made of sulfuric acid. And they buzz around the planet at up to 250 miles per hour — carried by super-strong winds.
That’s especially puzzling because Venus rotates on its axis at a relative snail’s pace. It takes 243 Earth days for it to make one full turn. So the high-speed winds are moving much faster than the surface below — an effect called “super-rotation.”
The pattern of those winds is complicated. Observations by a European spacecraft showed that the wind speed picked up over a period of eight years — by about a third.
And a Japanese mission found that the wind speed changes from year to year. It also found a difference in winds between the northern and southern hemispheres, and between the day and night sides of the planet.
Scientists still aren’t sure why Venus’s high-level winds are so fast, or why they’ve changed in recent years. It may take new missions to our neighboring planet to solve the mystery of its super-speedy winds.
And Venus is in great view right now. It’s the brilliant “evening star,” so it’s the brightest object in the night sky other than the Moon. Venus is quite close to the right of the Moon tonight — a brilliant light that’s blanketed by brilliant clouds.
Tomorrow: from store owner to comet-hunting celebrity.
Script by Damond Benningfield