Stationary waves and slowly moving features in the night upper clouds of Venus

  • Nature Astronomy 1, Article number: 0187 (2017)
  • doi:10.1038/s41550-017-0187
  • Download Citation
Published online:


At the cloud top level of Venus (65–70 km altitude) the atmosphere rotates 60 times faster than the underlying surface—a phenomenon known as superrotation1,2. Whereas on Venus’s dayside the cloud top motions are well determined3,4,5,6 and Venus general circulation models predict the mean zonal flow at the upper clouds to be similar on both the day and nightside2, the nightside circulation remains poorly studied except for the polar region7,8. Here, we report global measurements of the nightside circulation at the upper cloud level. We tracked individual features in thermal emission images at 3.8 and 5.0 μm obtained between 2006 and 2008 by the Visible and Infrared Thermal Imaging Spectrometer-Mapper onboard Venus Express and in 2015 by ground-based measurements with the Medium-Resolution 0.8–5.5 Micron Spectrograph and Imager at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Infrared Telescope Facility. The zonal motions range from −110 to −60 m s–1, which is consistent with those found for the dayside but with larger dispersion6. Slow motions (−50 to −20 m s–1) were also found and remain unexplained. In addition, abundant stationary wave patterns with zonal speeds from −10 to +10 m s–1 dominate the night upper clouds and concentrate over the regions of higher surface elevation.

  • Subscribe to Nature Astronomy for full access:



Additional access options:

Already a subscriber?  Log in  now or  Register  for online access.


  1. 1.

    et al. in Venus II: Geology, Geophysics, Atmosphere, and Solar Wind Environment (eds Bougher, S. W., Hunten, D. M. & Phillips, R. J. ) 459 (Univ. Arizona Press, 1997).

  2. 2.

    et al. in Towards Understanding the Climate of Venus: Applications of Terrestrial Models to Our Sister Planet (eds Bengtsson, L. et al. ) 129 (Springer, 2013).

  3. 3.

    , & A reanalysis of Venus winds at two cloud levels from Galileo SSI images. Icarus 190, 469–477 (2007).

  4. 4.

    , , , & Long-term variation in the cloud-tracked zonal velocities at the cloud top of Venus deduced from Venus Express VMC images. J. Geophys. Res. Planets 118, 37–46 (2013).

  5. 5.

    et al. Cloud level winds from the Venus Express Monitoring Camera imaging. Icarus 226, 140–158 (2013).

  6. 6.

    , , , & Six years of Venus winds at the upper cloud level from UV, visible and near infrared observations from VIRTIS on Venus Express. Planet. Space Sci. 113–114, 78–99 (2015).

  7. 7.

    et al. Venus’s southern polar vortex reveals precessing circulation. Science 332, 577–580 (2011).

  8. 8.

    et al. A chaotic long-lived vortex at the southern pole of Venus. Nat. Geosci. 6, 254–257 (2013).

  9. 9.

    , , , & A model of scattered thermal radiation for Venus from 3 to 5 μm. Planet. Space Sci. 81, 65–73 (2013).

  10. 10.

    et al. Galileo infrared imaging spectroscopy measurements at Venus. Science 253, 1541–1548 (1991).

  11. 11.

    et al. Scientific goals for the observation of Venus by VIRTIS on ESA/Venus Express mission. Planet. Space Sci. 55, 1653–1672 (2007).

  12. 12.

    et al. Morphology of the cloud tops as observed by the Venus Express Monitoring Camera. Icarus 217, 682–701 (2012).

  13. 13.

    et al. Characterization of mesoscale gravity waves in the upper and lower clouds of Venus from VEX-VIRTIS images. J. Geophys. Res. 113, E00B18 (2008).

  14. 14.

    et al. High latitude gravity waves at the Venus cloud tops as observed by the Venus Monitoring Camera on board Venus Express. Icarus 227, 94–111 (2014).

  15. 15.

    et al. The radiative forcing variability caused by the changes of the upper cloud vertical structure in the Venus mesosphere. Planet. Space Sci. 113, 298–308 (2015).

  16. 16.

    Radiative forcing of the Venus mesosphere. I. Solar fluxes and heating rates. Icarus 67, 484–514 (1986).

  17. 17.

    , , , & Models of the structure of the atmosphere of Venus from the surface to 100 kilometres altitude. Adv. Space Res. 5, 3–58 (1985).

  18. 18.

    et al. Spatially resolved measurements of H2O, HCl, CO, OCS, SO2, cloud opacity, and acid concentration in the Venus near-infrared spectral windows. J. Geophys. Res. Planets 119, 1860–1891 (2014).

  19. 19.

    et al. Zonal and meridional circulation of the lower atmosphere of venus determined by radio interferometry. J. Geophys. Res. 85, 8026–8030 (1980).

  20. 20.

    & VIRA-2: a review of inputs for updating the Venus International Reference Atmosphere. Adv. Space Res. 19, 1191–1201 (1997).

  21. 21.

    , & Assessing the long-term variability of venus winds at cloud level from VIRTIS–Venus Express. Icarus 217, 585–598 (2012).

  22. 22.

    et al. The Venus nighttime atmosphere as observed by the VIRTIS-M instrument. Average fields from the complete infrared data set. J. Geophys. Res. Planets 119, 837–849 (2014).

  23. 23.

    et al. Venus’s winds and temperatures during the Messenger’s flyby: an approximation to a three-dimensional instantaneous state of the atmosphere. Geophys. Res. Lett. 44, 3907–3915 (2017).

  24. 24.

    Venus atmospheric circulation—known and unknown. J. Geophys. Res. 112, E04S09 (2007).

  25. 25.

    et al. Large stationary gravity wave in the atmosphere of Venus. Nat. Geosci. 10, 85–88 (2017).

  26. 26.

    et al. Influence of Venus topography on the zonal wind and UV albedo at cloud top level: the role of stationary gravity waves. J. Geophys. Res. Planets 121, 1087–1101 (2016).

  27. 27.

    et al. Small-scale temperature fluctuations seen by the VeRa Radio Science Experiment on Venus Express. Icarus 221, 471–480 (2012).

  28. 28.

    et al. Analytical solution for waves in planets with atmospheric superrotation. I. Acoustic and inertia-gravity waves. Astrophys. J. Suppl. S. 213, 1 (2014).

  29. 29.

    , & Middle Atmosphere Dynamics (Academic Press, 1987).

  30. 30.

    et al. AKATSUKI returns to Venus. Earth Planets Space 68, 1–10 (2016).

  31. 31.

    et al. SpeX: a medium-resolution 0.8-5.5 micron spectrograph and imager for the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility. Publ. Astron. Soc. Pac. 115, 362–382 (2003).

  32. 32.

    , , & Fast and robust multiframe super resolution. IEEE T. Image Process 13, 1327–1344 (2004).

  33. 33.

    et al. PlanetCam UPV/EHU: a two-channel lucky imaging camera for solar system studies in the spectral range 0.38–1.7 μm. Publ. Astron. Soc. Pac. 128, 035002 (2016).

  34. 34.

    et al. Venus cloud morphology and motions from ground-based images at the time of the Akatsuki orbit insertion. Astrophys. J. Lett. 833, L7 (2016).

  35. 35.

    et al. VIRTIS: the visible and infrared thermal imaging spectrometer. ESA Sp. Publ. SP 1295, 1–27 (2007).

  36. 36.

    et al. The Planetary Laboratory for Image Analysis (PLIA). Adv. Space Res. 46, 1120–1138 (2010).

  37. 37.

    et al. Evidence for anomalous cloud particles at the poles of Venus. J. Geophys. Res. 113, E00B13 (2008).

  38. 38.

    , , & Pressure-induced IR radiation absorption in atmospheres. Izv. Atmos. Ocean. Phys. 15, 632–637 (1979).

  39. 39.

    , & Atmospheric thermal structure and cloud features in the southern hemisphere of Venus as retrieved from VIRTIS/VEX radiation measurements. Icarus 232, 232–248 (2014).

Download references


J.P. acknowledges the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s International Top Young Fellowship. R.H. and A.S.-L. were supported by the project AYA2015-65041-P from the European Union’s Fondo Europeo para el Desarrollo Regional, granted by the Spanish Ministerio de Economía, Industria y Competitividad, and Grupos Gobierno Vasco (IT-765-13). T.M.S. was supported by a Grant-in-Aid for the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science Fellows. The IRTF/SpeX observations were supported by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (KAKENHI 15K17767). T.K., T.M.S. and H.S. were visiting astronomers at the IRTF, which is operated by the University of Hawaii under contract NNH14CK55B with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and acknowledge M. S. Connelley (Institute for Astronomy, University of Hawaii) for support in the observations. We also thank the Agenzia Spaziale Italiana and the Centre National d’Études Spatiales for supporting the VIRTIS–VEx experiment.

Author information


  1. Institute of Space and Astronautical Science, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, 252-5210 Sagamihara, Kanagawa, Japan.

    • J. Peralta
    • , Y. J. Lee
    • , T. M. Sato
    •  & T. Satoh
  2. Grupo de Ciencias Planetarias, Departamento de Física Aplicada I, E.T.S. Ingeniería, Universidad del País Vasco, 48013 Bilbao, Bizkaia, Spain.

    • R. Hueso
    •  & A. Sánchez-Lavega
  3. Zentrum für Astronomie und Astrophysik, Technische Universität Berlin, D-10623 Berlin, Germany.

    • A. García Muñoz
  4. Artificial Intelligence Research Center, National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, 135-0064 Tokyo, Japan.

    • T. Kouyama
  5. Faculty of Science, Kyoto Sangyo University, 603-8555 Kyoto, Japan.

    • H. Sagawa
  6. Istituto di Astrofisica e Planetologia Spaziali, 00133 Rome, Italy.

    • G. Piccioni
  7. Abteilung Planetenforschung, Rheinisches Institut für Umweltforschung, Universität zu Köln, 50923 Cologne, Germany.

    • S. Tellmann
  8. Graduate School of Frontier Sciences, University of Tokyo, 277-8561 Kashiwa, Chiba, Japan.

    • T. Imamura


  1. Search for J. Peralta in:

  2. Search for R. Hueso in:

  3. Search for A. Sánchez-Lavega in:

  4. Search for Y. J. Lee in:

  5. Search for A. García Muñoz in:

  6. Search for T. Kouyama in:

  7. Search for H. Sagawa in:

  8. Search for T. M. Sato in:

  9. Search for G. Piccioni in:

  10. Search for S. Tellmann in:

  11. Search for T. Imamura in:

  12. Search for T. Satoh in:


J.P. explored, selected and processed the data from the VIRTIS dataset, wrote the manuscript and produced Fig. 1,Fig. 2,Fig. 3,Fig. 4 and Supplementary Figs 1, 3 and 5. R.H. evaluated the signal-to-noise ratios of the VIRTIS images, confirmed the lack of correlation between the images of the upper clouds and those sensing deeper levels, performed the principal component analysis and produced Supplementary Figs. 4 and 5. A.S.-L. suggested the scheme for the manuscript, as well as some of the figures to be included, and chaired the discussion of the results. J.P., R.H. and A.S.-L. measured the cloud motions from VIRTIS and J.P. and T.K. measured those from SpeX. Y.J.L. and A.G.-M. coordinated, designed and carried out the sensitivity analyses at the wavelengths of interest. Y.J.L. studied the spectral features of the filaments and produced Supplementary Fig. 2. T.K., T.M.S. and H.S. obtained, reduced, corrected and navigated the SpeX images. S.T. measured the atmospheric stability and vertical wavelenghs in the VEx and VeRa radio-occultation data. All the authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to J. Peralta.

Supplementary information