A new simulation suggests that an odd interaction between Venus’ mountains and atmosphere could alter the length of the planet’s days by about two minutes, according to a paper published in the journal Nature Geoscience.
Venus takes 243 Earth days to fully rotate and 243 Earth days to complete an entire orbit around the sun. However, as the planet rotates in the opposite direction of Earth, our host star rises twice in a single day on the distant world. At the same time, the cloud tops orbit the planet once every four Earth days and the atmosphere at the surface is 90 times more dense than Earth’s at sea level.
In the new study, researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles and the University of Paris-Saclay used information gathered from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Akatsuki spacecraft to analyze those unique mechanisms.
They found that, in line with past theories, it is likely the planet’s extremely fast winds create a powerful wave when they slam up against its mountains. Taking such waves into account, the atmosphere could theoretically cause Venus to rotate off its axis by about two minutes.
That finding is important because studying how those waves affect Venus could help scientists better understand the world’s interior. In addition, analyzing such processes on other planets could also help them interpret certain phenomenon on Earth.
“Eventually, an accurate measurement of the length-of-day could detect the various impacts of the atmospheric flow against mountains,” wrote the team in their paper, according to Gizmodo.
While the astronomers did not actually measured a length-of-day-change — they only ran a model that suggested it could be possible — they are confident in their research and plan to investigate the world more in the future.
“We have to average the displacement over a long period of time to get an estimate,” said lead author Thomas Navarro, a planetary scientist at the University of California in Los Angeles, according to ABC.net. “We kind of know what the average duration of the day is, what we don’t know very well is how the fluctuations of the rotation rate could make the day vary.”