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The structure of Venus’ middle atmosphere and ionosphere


The atmosphere and ionosphere of Venus have been studied in the past by spacecraft with remote sensing1,2,3,4 or in situ techniques3,4. These early missions, however, have left us with questions about, for example, the atmospheric structure in the transition region from the upper troposphere to the lower mesosphere (50–90 km) and the remarkably variable structure of the ionosphere. Observations become increasingly difficult within and below the global cloud deck (<50 km altitude), where strong absorption greatly limits the available investigative spectrum to a few infrared windows and the radio range. Here we report radio-sounding results from the first Venus Express Radio Science5 (VeRa) occultation season. We determine the fine structure in temperatures at upper cloud-deck altitudes, detect a distinct day–night temperature difference in the southern middle atmosphere, and track day-to-day changes in Venus’ ionosphere.

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Figure 1: Temperature profiles from DOY 234, 2006 at latitude 71° N, derived with three different upper boundary temperature conditions of 170, 200 and 230 K.
Figure 2: Venus temperature height profiles from VeRa radio-sounding observations.
Figure 3: Venus temperature maps derived from VeRa radio occultation data.
Figure 4: Daytime electron density profiles in the ionosphere of Venus.
Figure 5: Four electron density profiles from the nightside of Venus.

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We thank H. Svedhem, F. Jansen, the Project Science Team at ESTEC and the Flight Control Team at ESOC for continuous support. The German and the US part of VeRa are supported by DLR, Bonn-Oberkassel and by a contract with NASA, respectively.

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Correspondence to M. Pätzold.

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Pätzold, M., Häusler, B., Bird, M. et al. The structure of Venus’ middle atmosphere and ionosphere. Nature 450, 657–660 (2007).

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