The Variable Venusian Day

Venus, as captured by Mariner 10.

Venus is a thoroughly unpleasant place thanks to its hellish temperatures and acidic clouds, but a new study adds another wrinkle to our strange sister planet: Venus’s day varies by up to 21 minutes in length. This peculiar factoid is the result of 15 years spent monitoring Venus’s rotation via radar. Previous attempts to pin down the exact length of Venus’s day produced differing answers; those disagreements make more sense in light of the new study, where individuals measurements of Venus’s rotation rate could differ by 3 minutes just from one (Earth) day to the next!

So why does Venus’s rotation rate change so dramatically? Venus’s atmosphere is massive — 100 times more massive than Earth’s — and it spins incredibly fast. The upper layers of Venus’s atmosphere can complete a rotation in 4 Earth days, while the solid ground requires 243 Earth days. As the atmosphere spins and sloshes, some of its angular momentum gets transferred to the ground, changing the planet’s rotation rate. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech; research credit: J. Margot et al.; via AGU Eos; submitted by Kam-Yung Soh)

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