Photo/IllutrationAn image of Venus captured by an infrared camera on the Venus orbiter Akatsuki shows clouds on the planet. ((c) PLANET-C Project Team)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Savage winds exceeding 288 kph were detected near Venus' equator by the space orbiter Akatsuki, the first discovery of its kind, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced on Aug. 29.

The winds, named “equatorial jet” by the research team, were found from July to August 2016 when an infrared camera captured images of areas about 45 to 60 kilometers above the planet's surface. The areas are invisible at optical wavelengths due to extremely dense clouds of sulfuric acid. The camera spotted thick clouds traveling at a speed of 288 kph to 324 kph near the planet's equator.

The discovery was published in the online version of the British scientific magazine Nature Geoscience on Aug. 28.

Previously, superrotation, a mighty westward wind exceeding 360 kph, was known to exist over a wide range of Venus' upper atmosphere.

The mechanics of superrotation, in which the atmosphere spins about 60 times faster than the planet rotates, remain a great mystery.

“Discovery of an equatorial jet is a giant step toward unraveling the mystery of superrotation,” said Takeshi Horinouchi, associate professor of meteorology at Hokkaido University.

In March 2016, about the time the Akatsuki began regular monitoring of the planet, winds were not spotted at the equator. Significant meteorological variations are likely to depend on the time. An equatorial jet has not been observed by other satellites, according to JAXA.

The Akatsuki failed in its initial attempt to enter an orbit around Venus following its launch in 2010. In December 2015, it succeeded in orbiting Venus and has continued its observations until now.