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Publication archive

Published online 19 April 2016

SPICAV VIS-IR spectrometer on-board the Venus Express mission measured the H2O abundance above Venus' clouds in the 1.38 µm band, and provided an estimation of the cloud top altitude based on CO2 bands in the range of 1.4–1.6 µm. The H2O content and the cloud top altitude have been retrieved for the complete Venus Express dataset from 2006 to 2014 taking into account multiple scattering in the cloudy atmosphere. The cloud top altitude, corresponding to unit nadir aerosol optical depth at 1.48 µm, varies from 68 to 73 km at latitudes from 40°S to 40°N with an average of 70.2 ± 0.8 km assuming the aerosol scale height of 4 km. In high northern latitudes, the cloud top decreases to 62–68 km. The altitude of formation of water lines ranges from 59 to 66 km. The H2O mixing ratio at low latitudes (20°S-20°N) is equal to 6.1 ± 1.2 ppm with variations from 4 to 11 ppm and the effective altitude of 61.9 ± 0.5 km. Between 30° and 50° of latitude in both hemispheres, a local minimum was observed with a value of 5.4 ± 1 ppm corresponding to the effective altitude of 62.1 ± 0.6 km and variations from 3 to 8 ppm. At high latitudes in both hemispheres, the water content varies from 4 to 12 ppm with an average of 7.2 ± 1.4 ppm which corresponds to 60.6 ± 0.5 km. Observed variations of water vapor within a factor of 2-3 on the short timescale appreciably exceed individual measurement errors and could be explained as a real variation of the mixing ratio or/and possible variations of the cloud opacity within the clouds. The maximum of water at lower latitudes supports a possible convection and injection of water from lower atmospheric layers.
[Remainder of abstract truncated due to character limitations]

Published: 02 August 2016
Based on analysis of UV images (at 365 nm) of Venus cloud top (altitude 67±2 km) collected with Venus Monitoring Camera on board Venus Express (VEX), it is found that the zonal wind speed south of the equator (from 5°S to 15°S) shows a conspicuous variation (from −101 to −83 m/s) with geographic longitude of Venus, correlated with the underlying relief of Aphrodite Terra. We interpret this pattern as the result of stationary gravity waves produced at ground level by the uplift of air when the horizontal wind encounters a mountain slope. These waves can propagate up to the cloud top level, break there, and transfer their momentum to the zonal flow. Such upward propagation of gravity waves and influence on the wind speed vertical profile was shown to play an important role in the middle atmosphere of the Earth by Lindzen (1981) but is not reproduced in the current GCM of Venus atmosphere from LMD. (Laboratoire de Météorologie Dynamique) In the equatorial regions, the UV albedo at 365 nm varies also with longitude. We argue that this variation may be simply explained by the divergence of the horizontal wind field. In the longitude region (from 60° to −10°) where the horizontal wind speed is increasing in magnitude (stretch), it triggers air upwelling which brings the UV absorber at cloud top level and decreases the albedo and vice versa when the wind is decreasing in magnitude (compression). This picture is fully consistent with the classical view of Venus meridional circulation, with upwelling at equator revealed by horizontal air motions away from equator: the longitude effect is only an additional but important modulation of this effect. This interpretation is comforted by a recent map of cloud top H2O, showing that near the equator the lower UV albedo longitude region is correlated with increased H2O. We argue that H2O enhancement is the sign of upwelling, suggesting that the UV absorber is also brought to cloud top by upwelling.
Published: 01 July 2016
First published: 20 June 2016

Understanding what processes govern atmospheric escape and the loss of planetary water is of paramount importance for understanding how life in the universe can exist. One mechanism thought to be important at all planets is an "ambipolar" electric field that helps ions overcome gravity. We report the discovery and first quantitative extraterrestrial measurements of such a field at the planet Venus. Unexpectedly, despite comparable gravity, we show the field to be five times stronger than in Earth's similar ionosphere. Contrary to our understanding, Venus would still lose heavy ions (including oxygen and all water-group species) to space, even if there were no stripping by the solar wind. We therefore find that it is possible for planets to lose heavy ions to space entirely through electric forces in their ionospheres and such an "electric wind" must be considered when studying the evolution and potential habitability of any planet in any star system.

Published: 21 June 2016
Published online 11 April 2016

Waves are ubiquitous phenomena found in oceans and atmospheres alike. From the earliest formal studies of waves in the Earth's atmosphere to more recent studies on other planets, waves have been shown to play a key role in shaping atmospheric bulk structure, dynamics and variability. Yet, waves are difficult to characterize as they ideally require in situ measurements of atmospheric properties that are difficult to obtain away from Earth. Thus, we have incomplete knowledge of atmospheric waves on planets other than our own, and we are thereby limited in our ability to understand and predict planetary atmospheres. Here we report the first ever in situ observations of atmospheric waves in Venus's thermosphere (130–140 km) at high latitudes (71.5°–79.0°). These measurements were made by the Venus Express Atmospheric Drag Experiment (VExADE) during aerobraking from 24 June to 11 July 2014. As the spacecraft flew through Venus's atmosphere, deceleration by atmospheric drag was sufficient to obtain from accelerometer readings a total of 18 vertical density profiles. We infer an average temperature of T = 114 ± 23 K and find horizontal wave-like density perturbations and mean temperatures being modulated at a quasi-5-day period.

Published: 12 April 2016
Venus is known to have been volcanically resurfaced in the last third of solar system history and to have undergone a significant decrease in volcanic activity a few hundred million years ago. However, fundamental questions remain: Is Venus still volcanically active today, and if so, where and in what geological and geodynamic environment? Here we show evidence from the Venus Express Venus Monitoring Camera for transient bright spots that are consistent with the extrusion of lava flows that locally cause significantly elevated surface temperatures. The very strong spatial correlation of the transient bright spots with the extremely young Ganiki Chasma, their similarity to locations of rift-associated volcanism on Earth, provide strong evidence for their volcanic origin and suggests that Venus is currently geodynamically active.
Published: 19 June 2015

Available online 24 September 2013

High resolution images of Venus Northern hemisphere obtained with the Venus Monitoring Camera (VMC/VEx) allow studying small-scale dynamical phenomena at the cloud tops (~62-70 km altitude) including features like wave trains. A systematic visual search of these waves was performed; more than 1500 orbits were analyzed and wave patterns were observed in more than 300 images. Four types of waves were identified in VMC images on the base of their morphology: long, medium, short and irregular type waves. With the aim to characterize the wave types and their possible excitation source, we retrieved wave properties such as location (latitude and longitude), local time, solar zenith angle, packet length and width, orientation, and wavelength of each wave. The long type waves appear as long and narrow straight features extending more than a few hundreds kilometers and with wavelengths between 7 and 17 km. Medium type waves exhibit irregular wavefronts extending more than 100 km and with wavelengths in the range 8-21 km. Short wave packets have a width of several tens of kilometers and extend to few hundreds kilometers and are characterized by smaller wavelengths (3-16 km). Irregular wave fields appear to be the result of wave interference. The waves are often identified in all VMC filters and are mostly found in the cold collar region at high latitudes (60-80°N) and are concentrated above Ishtar Terra, a continental size highland that includes the highest mountain belts of the planet. The high speed of the Venus Express spacecraft close to the pericentre does not allow to measure phase speed of waves due to the short temporal interval between image pairs. [Remainder of abstract truncated due to character limitation]

Published: 01 January 2014
In press; The accepted manuscript is available online as of 1 June 2013.

 

Published: 02 May 2013
Polar vortices are common in the atmospheres of rapidly rotating planets. On Earth and Mars, vortices are generated by surface temperature gradients and their strength is modulated by the seasonal insolation cycle. Slowly rotating Venus lacks pronounced seasonal forcing, but vortices are known to occur at both poles, in an atmosphere that rotates faster than the planet itself. Here we report observations of cloud motions at altitudes of 42 and 63 km above Venus's south pole using infrared images from the VIRTIS instrument onboard the Venus Express spacecraft. We find that the south polar vortex is a long-lived but unpredictable feature. Within the two cloud layers sampled, the centres of rotation of the vortex are rarely aligned vertically and both wander erratically around the pole with velocities of up to 16 ms-1. At the two horizontal levels, the observed cloud morphologies do not correlate with the vorticity of the wind field and change continuously, and vertical and meridional wind shears are also highly variable. We conclude that Venus's south polar vortex is a continuously evolving structure that is at least 20 km high, extending through a quasi-convective turbulent region.
Published: 24 March 2013
We present observational evidence of the variation of the cloud-tracked zonal velocity by ~20 m/s with a timescale of a few hundred days in the southern low latitude region based on an analysis of cloud images taken by the Venus Monitoring Camera on board Venus Express. A spectral analysis suggests that the variation has a periodicity with a period of about 255 days. Although cloud features are not always passive tracers, the periodical variation of the dynamical state is a robust feature. Superposed on this long-term variation of the zonal velocity, Kelvin wave-like disturbances tend to be observed in periods of relatively slow background velocity, while Rossby wave-like disturbances tend to be observed in periods of fast background velocity. Since the momentum deposition by these waves can accelerate and decelerate the mean flow, these waves may contribute to the suggested long-term oscillation.
Published: 30 January 2013
Sulphur dioxide is a million times more abundant in the atmosphere of Venus than that of Earth, possibly as a result of volcanism on Venus within the past billion years. A tenfold decrease in sulphur dioxide column density above Venus's clouds measured by the Pioneer Venus spacecraft during the 1970s and 1980s has been interpreted as decline following an episode of volcanogenic upwelling from the lower atmosphere. Here we report that the sulphur dioxide column density above Venus's clouds decreased by an order of magnitude between 2007 and 2012 using ultraviolet spectrometer data from the SPICAV instrument onboard the Venus Express spacecraft. This decline is similar to observations during the 1980s. We also report strong latitudinal and temporal variability in sulphur dioxide column density that is consistent with supply fluctuations from the lower atmosphere. We suggest that episodic sulphur dioxide injections to the cloud tops may be caused either by periods of increased buoyancy of volcanic plumes, or, in the absence of active volcanism, by long-period oscillations of the general atmospheric circulation. The 30-year observational record from Pioneer Venus and Venus Express confirms that episodic injections of sulphur dioxide above the clouds recur on decadal timescales, suggesting a more variable atmosphere than expected.
Published: 02 December 2012
A very tenuous solar wind regime, following a series of large coronal mass ejections, impacted Venus during early August, 2010. STEREO-B downstream from Venus observed that the solar wind density at Earth orbit dropped to ~0.1 #/cm3 and persisted at this value over 1 day. A similar low value was observed at Earth in 1999 and has attracted comprehensive attention (Lazarus, A.J., 2000. Solar physics: the day the solar wind almost disappeared. Science 287, 2172-2173.), especially its consequences on Earth's ionosphere and magnetosphere (Lockwood, M., 2001. Astronomy: the day the solar wind nearly died. Nature 409, 677-679.). We now have an opportunity to examine the response of Venus' ionosphere to such a tenuous solar wind. After Venus Express spacecraft entered the ionosphere near the terminator, it continuously sampled O+ dominated planetary plasma on the nightside till it left the optical shadow region when Venus Express was located at 2 RV (Venus' Radii) to the Venus center and 1.1 RV to the Sun-Venus line. Moreover, the O+ speed was lower than the gravitational escape speed. We interpret this low-speed O+ as a constituent of the extended nightside ionosphere as a consequence of long-duration (18 h) tenuous solar wind, because the very low dynamic pressure enhances the source and reduces the sink of the nightside ionosphere. Though the full extent of the nightside ionosphere is not known due to the limitation of spacecraft's trajectory, our results suggest that the global configuration of Venus' ionosphere could resemble a teardrop-shaped cometary ionosphere.
Published: 01 December 2012
The Venus Express Radio Science Experiment VeRa retrieves atmospheric profiles in the mesosphere and troposphere of Venus in the approximate altitude range of 40-90 km. A data set of more than 500 profiles was retrieved between the orbit insertion of Venus Express in 2006 and the end of occultation season No. 11 in July 2011. The atmospheric profiles cover a wide range of latitudes and local times, enabling us to study the dependence of vertical small-scale temperature perturbations on local time and latitude. Temperature fluctuations with vertical wavelengths of 4 km or less are extracted from the measured temperature profiles in order to study small-scale gravity waves. Significant wave amplitudes are found in the stable atmosphere above the tropopause at roughly 60 km as compared with the only shallow temperature perturbations in the nearly adiabatic region of the adjacent middle cloud layer, below. Gravity wave activity shows a strong latitudinal dependence with the smallest wave amplitudes located in the low-latitude range, and an increase of wave activity with increasing latitude in both hemispheres; the greatest wave activity is found in the high-northern latitude range in the vicinity of Ishtar Terra, the highest topographical feature on Venus. We find evidence for a local time dependence of gravity wave activity in the low latitude range within +/-30° of the equator. Gravity wave amplitudes are at their maximum beginning at noon and continuing into the early afternoon, indicating that convection in the lower atmosphere is a possible wave source. [Remainder of abstract truncated due to character limitation]
Published: 01 December 2013
SOIR is a high-resolution spectrometer flying on board the ESA Venus Express mission. It performs solar occultations of the Venus high atmosphere, and so defines unique vertical profiles of many of the Venus key species. In this paper, we focus on the Venus main constituent, carbon dioxide. We explain how the temperature, the total density, and the total pressure are derived from the observed CO2 density vertical profiles. A striking permanent temperature minimum at 125 km is observed. The data set is processed in order to obtain a Venus Atmosphere from SOIR measurements at the Terminator (VAST) compilation for different latitude regions and extending from 70 up to 170 km in altitude. The results are compared to many literature results obtained from ground-based observations, previous missions, and the Venus Express mission. The homopause altitude is also determined.
Published: 04 July 2012
We analyze night-time near-infrared (NIR) thermal emission images of the Venus surface obtained with the 1-micron channel of the Venus Monitoring Camera onboard Venus Express. Comparison with the results of the Magellan radar survey and the model NIR images of the Beta-Phoebe region show that the night-time VMC images provide reliable information on spatial variations of the NIR surface emission. In this paper we consider if tessera terrain has the different NIR emissivity (and thus mineralogic composition) in comparison to the surrounding basaltic plains. This is done through the study of an area SW of Beta Regio where there is a massif of tessera terrain, Chimon-mana Tessera, surrounded by supposedly basaltic plains. Our analysis showed that 1-micron emissivity of tessera surface material is by 15-35% lower than that of relatively fresh supposedly basaltic lavas of plains and volcanic edifices. This is consistent with hypothesis that the tessera material is not basaltic, maybe felsic, that is in agreement with the results of analyses of VEX VIRTIS and Galileo NIMS data. If the felsic nature of venusian tesserae will be confirmed in further studies this may have important implications on geochemical environments in early history of Venus. We have found that the surface materials of plains in the study area are very variegated in their 1-micron emissivity, which probably reflects variability of degree of their chemical weathering. We have also found a possible decrease of the calculated emissivity at the top of Tuulikki Mons volcano which, if real, may be due to different (more felsic?) composition of volcanic products on the volcano summit.
Published: 17 May 2012

Published online 5 April 2012, in Science Express

Observations with the Venus Express magnetometer and low-energy particle detector revealed magnetic field and plasma behaviour in the near-Venus wake symptomatic of magnetic reconnection, a process that occurs in the Earth's magnetotail but is not expected in the magnetotail of a non-magnetized planet like Venus. On 15 May 2006, the plasma flow in this region was toward the planet and the magnetic field component transverse to the flow was reversed. Magnetic reconnection is a plasma process that changes the topology of the magnetic field and results in energy exchange between the magnetic field and the plasma. Thus, the energetics of the Venus magnetotail resembles that of the terrestrial tail where energy is stored and later released from the magnetic field to the plasma.

Published: 05 May 2012

This issue of Icarus presents papers on the planet Venus based principally on presentations at two international conferences during the summer of 2010. Under the sponsorship of the European Space Agency, the International Venus Conference (Aussois, France, 20-26 June 2010) focused on the results from the Venus Express Mission. Venus Express is expected to continue operations through December 2014 and beyond. The second conference, "Venus Our Closest Earth-like Planet: From Surface to Thermosphere - How does it work?", was sponsored by the Venus Exploration Analysis Group (VEXAG) chartered by NASA in Madison, Wisconsin (29 August-1 September, 2010). The work presented at these conferences illustrates the resurgence in Venus research since the arrival at Venus of the European Space Agency's Venus Express orbiter in April 2006. The issue also includes papers that were inspired by JAXA's launch of Venus Climate Orbiter (also known as Akatsuki) in May 2010.

The papers reflect the international interest in Venus and cover many different aspects of the planet, ranging from interior and surface to the upper atmosphere, with many results focusing on the coupling between different layers.

- The remainder of the abstract is truncated -

Published: 04 April 2012
The 1.02 micron wavelength thermal emission of the nightside of Venus is strongly anti-correlated to the elevation of the surface. The VIRTIS instrument on Venus Express has mapped this emission and therefore gives evidence for the orientation of Venus between 2006 and 2008. The Magellan mission provided a global altimetry data set recorded between 1990 and 1992. Comparison of these two data sets reveals a deviation in longitude indicating that the rotation of the planet is not fully described by the orientation model recommended by the IAU. This deviation is sufficiently large to affect estimates of surface emissivity from infrared imaging. A revised period of rotation of Venus of 243.023 ± 0.002 d aligns the two data sets. This period of rotation agrees with pre-Magellan estimates but is significantly different from the commonly accepted value of 243.0185 ± 0.0001 d estimated from Magellan radar images. It is possible that this discrepancy stems from a length of day variation with the value of 243.023 ± 0.002 d representing the average of the rotation period over 16 years.
Published: 01 February 2012

Made available online 25 August 2011

To date, ozone has only been identified in the atmospheres of Earth and Mars. This study reports the first detection of ozone in the atmosphere of Venus by the SPICAV ultraviolet instrument onboard the Venus Express spacecraft. Venusian ozone is characterized by a vertically confined and horizontally variable layer residing in the thermosphere at a mean altitude of 100 km, with local concentrations of the order of 107-108 molecules cm-3. The observed ozone concentrations are consistent with values expected for a chlorine-catalyzed destruction scheme, indicating that the key chemical reactions operating in Earth's upper stratosphere may also operate on Venus.

Published: 01 November 2011

Comparative planetology has long been a field of general interest but with a fairly small number of scientists actively involved. During the last decade, until recently, there has been no significant growth, possibly much due to lack of new data from Venus; perhaps the most obvious planet to compare with the Earth. Availability of ample data of high quality is of paramount importance for proper comparisons. With the arrival of Venus Express at Venus in March 2006 a new impulse to the field has been injected. Venus Express addresses a large number of topics relevant to comparative planetology; in particular in the field of atmospheric dynamics and chemistry, clouds and atmospheresolar wind interaction.

Mars has been the subject of significant interest and many space missions in the recent years. Being smaller and cooler and in several aspects more evolved, Mars is still a planet of great interest for comparison with the Earth on the other end of the parameter space.

- The remainder of the abstract is truncated -

Published: 03 August 2011
Atmospheric angular momentum variations of a planet are associated with the global atmospheric mass redistribution and the wind variability. The exchange of angular momentum between the fluid layers and the solid planet is the main cause for the variations of the planetary rotation at seasonal time scales. In the present study, we investigate the angular momentum variations of the Earth, Mars and Venus, using geodetic observations, output of state-of-the-art global circulation models as well as assimilated data. We discuss the similarities and differences in angular momentum variations, planetary rotation and angular momentum exchange for the three terrestrial planets. We show that the atmospheric angular momentum variations for Mars and Earth are mainly annual and semi-annual whereas they are expected to be "diurnal" on Venus. The wind terms have the largest contributions to the LOD changes of the Earth and Venus whereas the matter term is dominant on Mars due to the CO2 sublimation/condensation. The corresponding LOD variations (DLOD) have similar amplitudes on Mars and Earth but are much larger on Venus, though more difficult to observe.
Published: 02 July 2011
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