The planet Venus is covered by thick clouds of sulfuric acid that move westwards because the entire upper atmosphere rotates much faster than the planet itself. At the cloud tops, about 65 km in altitude, small-scale features are predominantly carried by the background wind at speeds of approximately 100 m s−1. In contrast, planetary-scale atmospheric features have been observed to move slightly faster or slower than the background wind, a phenomenon that has been interpreted to reflect the propagation of planetary-scale waves. Here we report the detection of an interhemispheric bow-shaped structure stretching 10,000 km across at the cloud-top level of Venus in middle infrared and ultraviolet images from the Japanese orbiter Akatsuki. Over several days of observation, the bow-shaped structure remained relatively fixed in position above the highland on the slowly rotating surface, despite the background atmospheric super rotation. We suggest that the bow-shaped structure is the result of an atmospheric gravity wave generated in the lower atmosphere by mountain topography that then propagated upwards. Numerical simulations provide preliminary support for this interpretation, but the formation and propagation of a mountain gravity wave remain difficult to reconcile with assumed near-surface conditions on Venus. We suggest that winds in the deep atmosphere may be spatially or temporally more variable than previously thought.
We would like to acknowledge all the members of the Akatsuki project team for their efforts in the Akatsuki operation, which led to the successful VOI. This work was supported by JSPS KAKENHI Grant Numbers JP15K17767 and JP16H02231.