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Venusian winds blowing a third faster since ’06

AFP-JIJI

Already traveling at super-hurricane speeds, winds on Venus have accelerated by an astonishing one-third over the past six years, the European Space Agency said Tuesday.

Separate teams of astronomers analyzed images from ESA’s Venus Express orbiter, monitoring the cloud patterns of our closest neighbor. When the Venus Express got started in 2006, high-altitude winds between the 50-degree latitude lines on either side of the equator were recorded at about 300 kph on average, they found. The speeds have progressively increased and are now close to 400 kph.

The probe was built by a team led by Igor Khatuntsev from the Space Research Institute in Moscow and another led by Toru Kouyama of Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology.

Venus was once touted as a sister planet to ours and, in early science fiction, was portrayed as a potential second home. But in 1970, it was found to host an atmosphere of carbon dioxide with a pressure 90 times that on Earth and a surface cooked to 450 degrees Celsius. Its wind system is a yellowish brew of toxic gases that reach their highest speed at some 70 km above the surface. These winds are intriguing because they are “superrotating,” meaning that they travel dozens of times faster than the planet’s spin.

The rotation of Venus is agonizingly slow — it takes the equivalent of 243 Earth days to complete a single Venusian day.