Venus Express has constantly been observing the south pole of Venus and has found it to be surprisingly fickle. An enormous structure with a central part that looks like the eye of a hurricane, morphs and changes shape within a matter of days, leaving scientists puzzled.
The eye of the hurricane is at the center of a 2000 km-wide vortex. It was discovered in 1974 by the Mariner 10 spacecraft. There is a similar structure on the planet’s north pole, which was observed by the Pioneer Venus mission in 1979.
Venus Express scientists have been studying the structure in the thermal infrared, the wavelength range which reveals the temperature at the cloud-tops. Seen in this wavelength, the core of the vortex appears very bright, probably indicating that a lot of atmospheric gases are moving downward in the region, which creates a depression at the cloud-tops, making the region hotter.
“Simply put, the enormous vortex is similar to what you might see in your bathtub once you have pulled out the plug” says Giuseppe Piccioni, co-Principal Investigator for the Visible and Infrared Thermal Imaging Spectrometer (VIRTIS) on Venus Express, at IASF-INAF, Rome, Italy.
Scientists are not sure what actually creates the vortex. Colin Wilson, at the University of Oxford, says, “One explanation is that atmospheric gases heated by the Sun at the equator, rise and then move poleward. In the polar-regions, they converge and sink again. As the gases moves towards the poles, they are deflected sideways because of the planet’s rotation.”
The dynamic nature of this vortex is similar to behavior observed in other vortices on Earth, including those observed at the center of hurricanes.