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These images from an ESA Venus Express movie of cloud movements around Venus’s south pole capture
 a “peculiar double-eye vortex structure, never clearly seen by any other Venusian mission before.”
Credit: ESA/Venus Express

Jul 17, 2006
Another “Double-Eye” of Venus

Twin footprints of electric currents from space are apparent at Venus’ south pole—counterparts to the footprints earlier discovered at Venus’ north pole.

The frames of the movie shown above depict the main features of an extraordinary phenomenon on Venus— a “double-eye atmospheric vortex over the south pole.” The movie shows the rotation and the shape variation of the double vortex from April 12 to April 19. The images also show the presence of a collar of colder air around the vortex structure (dark blue), which ESA scientists describe as “possibly due to the recycling of cold air downwards.”

In 1978 the Pioneer Venus Orbiter had already revealed something similar at the north pole of Venus, described as "one of the more remarkable phenomena in the Solar System." The nature of the “double eye” vortexes remains a great mystery to planetary scientists.

A bit of recent history: On discovering the north polar vortex, scientists called it a "giant vortex of surprisingly complex structure and behavior located in the middle atmosphere at the north pole of the planet." The polar vortex on Venus is the hottest spot in the planet’s upper atmosphere. The diameter of the collar around the vortex is about 5000 kilometers, and the temperature contrast between the hottest part of the chevron-shaped dipoles and the coldest part of the collar is about 45 K. The configuration was not expected, and it remains an anomaly for mainstream ("gravity only") theorists.

Electrical theorists, however, say that Venus is highly active electrically due to its unique origin, its comet-like past, and a persistent electrical imbalance with its environment. They claim that astronomers, astrophysicists, and planetary scientists, oblivious to the behavior of electric discharges, are continually straining to explain electricity’s unexpected effects in planetary atmospheres, which they typically seek to describe in terms of heating and the mechanics of wind and water motion.

Leading Electric Universe proponent Wal Thornhill identified the dipolar configuration of the polar vortex as a cross-sectional view of a cosmic electric current. Within the solar system, as in every observed region of space, electric currents flow over vast distances by means of filaments of plasma that tend to organize themselves into "twisted pairs." A common name for this "doubleness" in current-conducting plasmas is a "Birkeland current". All the features shown above suggest that the two hot spots are the footprints of twin Birkeland currents. The "giant vortex" and its "surprisingly complex structure and behavior" are the energetic effect of the twin currents flowing into the planet’s atmosphere at the poles. In fact, the Venusian dipole shows both the configuration and the motion of Birkeland current pairs in plasma discharge experiments and in super-computer simulations, including the surrounding spiral vortex. It is the classic spiral nebula shape.

What baffles mainstream theorists is most often predictable under the electric model. In February 2005, Thornhill predicted that a similar configuration would be found in the region of Venus' south pole. He wrote: "We should expect to see evidence of the twisted pair configuration at both poles of Venus, if the input current is sufficiently strong and this model is correct.” And that is precisely what has now been discovered at the south pole of Venus. The hot spots are due to electrical heating and upwelling of the atmosphere.

While the electric model accounts for the anomalous features of the vortex, the ad hoc explanations of mainstream theorists are at best incomplete. A July report from reads, "The process that forms Venus' polar vortexes is similar to the process forming Earth's less-defined vortices at its poles, in which a warm equator drives high equatorial winds up toward the cooler poles, where the winds become unstable. On Venus, the vortex resembles the enormous mass of turning air that we see in hurricanes, except that instead of hundreds of kilometers across, Venus' structures span thousands of kilometers."

But this "explanation" ignores the radical difference between Venus and Earth. On Venus, the polar vortex is “inexplicably” hot, and Venus’ rotation (supposedly a primary force driving atmospheric motion) is extremely slow and in the retrograde direction (opposite the normal rotational direction of planets). Thus, Professor Fred Taylor of the University of Oxford Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics Department wrote of this latest Venus surprise: "The absence of viable theories which can be tested, or in this case any theory at all, leaves us uncomfortably in doubt as to our basic ability to understand even gross features of planetary atmospheric circulations."

Or perhaps the nature of the phenomena is not as mysterious as it may appear from archaic vantage points. The twisted filaments and other features are a trademark of electrical (Birkeland) currents. And while Taylor expected there could be a similar structure at the south pole, he had no basis for predicting details. Thornhill, on the other hand, could offer a specific interpretation, and a specific prediction, which has now been validated. The ESA report says: “ESA's Venus Express data undoubtedly confirm for the first time the presence of a huge 'double-eye' atmospheric vortex at the planet's south pole.”

In his earlier discussion of the north polar dipole, Thornhill noted the irregular motion, which also defies standard models: “The polar dipole has a variable rotation rate and it varies the position of its axis of rotation with respect to that of the planet. It was observed to move 500 km from the Venusian pole in less than a day and return just as quickly. The variable nature of the electrical input to Venus via the Sun and the snaking about of the Birkeland currents explain both these characteristics.” The NASA movie now confirms the same irregularities at the south pole.

We can confidently predict, therefore, that no model of Venus’ atmosphere that ignores the electrical input at Venus’ poles will ever explain the observed structures.

Attempts to model such atmospheric anomalies by references to planetary rotation and increasingly complicated thermodynamics will typically expose one layer of confusion after another. Noting that the upper atmospheric winds on Venus take only four days to complete a rotation, the ESA story continues, “This 'super-rotation,’ combined with the natural recycling of hot air in the atmosphere, would induce the formation of a vortex structure over each pole.”

The authors then ask, “But why two vortexes?” Their limited field of view does not allow them to see that the same force that answers this question answers the question they did not ask: What is driving the spectacular upper atmospheric winds on a planet that barely rotates at all—and in the “wrong” direction? At some point, meteorologists will surely realize that such things will not occur on an electrically isolated body.


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  CONTRIBUTING EDITORS: Dwardu Cardona, Ev Cochrane,
C.J. Ransom, Don Scott, Rens van der Sluijs, Ian Tresman
  WEBMASTER: Brian Talbott

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