A gigantic wave of toxic gas has been spotted surging across Venus in an event never seen before in the Solar System.
The planet-wide cloud is traveling at 200 mph through the Venus’ upper atmosphere and had been hiding in plain sight for 35 years.
Described as an “atmospheric disruption” by the international team who discovered it, the wave extends as far as 4,660 miles.
That’s about 61,000 football pitches – or long enough to engulf the width of the UK at its widest point in a hellish fog of acidic gas.
“If this happened on Earth, this would be a frontal surface at the scale of the planet,” said scientist Dr. Pedro Machado of the Institute of Astrophysics and Space Sciences in Portugal.
Venus is thought to have once been a habitable world much like Earth but is now about as hostile to life as planets get.
A rampant greenhouse effect caused by swirling sulphuric acid clouds has ramped its surface temperature up to 465C (869F) – hot enough to melt lead.
Venus’ cloudy atmosphere and high winds are known to create huge waves of gas, but none quite like this.
Researchers discovered the strange anomaly after studying infrared images taken by Japanese Venus orbiter Akatsuki between 2016 and 2018.
The wall of cloud sits roughly 31 miles above Venus’ surface and has swept the planet every five days since at least 1983.
It’s a phenomenon that hasn’t been seen anywhere else in the solar system, as it’s the first of its kind to be spotted at such low altitudes.
The research team, led by Japanese space agency JAXA, think the gas wave may help solve mysteries surrounding Venus’ mysterious greenhouse effect.
It was found in the region responsible for the effect and may help experts understand how the planet’s surface connects to its turbulent atmosphere.
“Since the disruption cannot be observed in the ultraviolet images sensing the top of the clouds at about 70 kilometers (43 miles) height, confirming its wave nature is of critical importance,” said JAXA scientist Dr. Javier Peralta.
“We would have finally found a wave transporting momentum and energy from the deep atmosphere and dissipating before arriving at the top of the clouds.
“It would, therefore, be depositing momentum precisely at the level where we observe the fastest winds of the so-called atmospheric super-rotation of Venus, whose mechanisms have been a long-time mystery.”
Scientists still don’t know what mechanisms are responsible for the cloud wave.
More observations are underway in an attempt to shed more light on the mysterious phenomenon.
The research has been published in Geophysical Research Letters.