ESA Science & Technology - Publication Archive
Published online in Science Express, 7 April 2011.
Initial images of Venus's South Pole by the Venus Express mission showed the presence of a bright, highly variable vortex, similar to that at the planet's North Pole. Using high-resolution infrared measurements of polar winds from the Venus Express's Visible and Infrared Thermal Imaging Spectrometer (VIRTIS) instrument, we show the vortex to have a constantly varying internal structure, with a centre of rotation displaced from the geographic South Pole by ~3 degrees of latitude, and which drifts around the pole with a period of 5 to 10 Earth days. This is indicative of a nonsymmetric and varying precession of the polar atmospheric circulation with respect to the planetary axis.
The mapping IR channel of the Visual and Infrared Thermal Imaging Spectrometer (VIRTIS-M) on board the Venus Express spacecraft observes the CO2 band at 4.3 Œm at a spectral resolution adequate to retrieve the atmospheric temperature profiles in the 65-96 km altitude range.
Observations acquired in the period June 2006 - July 2008 were used to derive average temperature fields as a function of latitude, subsolar longitude (i.e.: local time, LT) and pressure. Coverage presented here is limited to the nighttime because of the adverse effects of daytime non-LTE emission on the retrieval procedure, and to southernmost latitudes because of the orientation of the Venus-Express orbit. Maps of air temperature variability are also presented as the standard deviation of the population included in each averaging bin.
At the 100 mbar level (about 65 km above the reference surface) temperatures tend to decrease from the evening to the morning side, despite a local maximum observed around 20-21LT. The cold collar is evident around 65S, with a minimum temperature at 3LT. Moving to higher altitudes, local time trends become less evident at 12.6 mbar (about 75 km) where the temperature monotonically increases from middle-latitudes to the southern pole. Nonetheless, at this pressure level, two weaker local time temperature minima are observed at 23LT and 2LT equatorward of 60S. Local time trends in temperature reverse about 85 km, where the morning side is the warmer.
The variability at the 100 mbar level is maximum around 80S and stronger toward the morning side. Moving to higher altitudes, the morning side always shows the stronger variability. Southward of 60S, standard deviation presents minimum values around 12.6 mbar for all the local times.
More than 25 spacecraft from the United States and the Soviet Union visited Venus in the 20th century, but in spite of the many successful measurements they made, a great number of fundamental problems in the physics of the planet remained unsolved [Taylor, 2006; Titov et al., 2006]. In particular, a systematic and long-term survey of the atmosphere was missing, and most aspects of atmospheric behavior remained puzzling. After the Magellan radar mapping mission ended in 1994, there followed a hiatus of more than a decade in Venus research, until the European Space Agency took up the challenge and sent its own spacecraft to our planetary neighbor. The goal of this mission, Venus Express, is to carry out a global, long-term remote and in situ investigation of the atmosphere, the plasma environment, and some aspects of the surface of Venus from orbit [Titov et al., 2001; Svedhem et al., 2007].
Venus Express continues and extends the investigations of earlier missions by providing detailed monitoring of processes and phenomena in the atmosphere and near-space environment of Venus. Radio, solar, and stellar occultation, together with thermal emission spectroscopy, sound the atmospheric structure in the altitude range from 150 to 40 km with vertical resolution of few hundred meters, revealing strong temperature variations driven by radiation and dynamical processes.
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Beyond their intrinsic interest, ground-based observations have proven their usefulness in supporting spacecraft observations of Solar System bodies. Probably the most spectacular illustration ever was provided during the descent of the Huygens Probe on Titan, when the radio astronomy segment detected the "channel A" carrier signal from Huygens and allowed the recovery of the Doppler Wind Experiment that had been compromised by the failure of the corresponding Cassini channel (Lebreton et al., 2005). Furthermore, ground-based science observations performed during or around the Huygens mission provided new, complementary information on Titan's atmosphere and surface, helping to put the Huygens observations into context (Witasse et al., 2006). Another example of a successful ground-based campaign is the Deep Impact event, when numerous Earth-based and Earth-orbiting observatories monitored comet 9P/Tempel 1 when it was hit by the impactor (Meech et al., 2005).
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