Thursday, July 21, 2016

Meizan from Hell

On volcanoes and the wave clouds of Venus

Project Hyakumeizan was charmed to see that the savants from the European Space Agency have discovered “gravity waves” above the mountains of Venus. Gravity waves are what we ordinary folk call “wave clouds”. Island peaks such as Mt Fuji are virtuosos at producing them.

Maat Mons, the highest volcano on Venus
Image, courtesy David P Anderson, Southern Methodist University 

Alas, the wave clouds of Venus couldn’t be seen directly. Instead, they were detected as a bunching-up of the atmosphere’s water vapour over the Aphrodite Terra, a four and a half kilometre-high band of high mountains around the planet’s midriff.

Lording it over the Aphrodite mountains, although standing somewhat aloof from them, is the highest volcano on Venus, which rises some eight kilometres above the surrounding desert – if that is the right word for an infernal plain where the heat would melt lead and the sulphuric smog presses down heavily enough to crush the average submarine.

Although humans are unlikely to visit this summit soon, they have already named it Ma’at Mons, after an Egyptian goddess of the underworld. And when meizanologists get round to selecting the One Hundred Mountains of the Solar System, this “Venus-Fuji” will surely make the front rank of candidates.

Wave clouds over the one and only original Mt Fuji
Those gravity waves, though. How will we ever know if they stack up, aesthetically, against the original Mt Fuji’s masterly cadenzas of cloud? Pending the time when ESA can scrape together the funds for another Venus spacecraft – regrettably, they let their last one burn up in the planet’s upper atmosphere – perhaps they could rustle up a computer simulation.

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