Join Donate

Damia BouicJanuary 16, 2018

A new look at Venus with Akatsuki

Editor's note: This blog post is a collaboration between an image processing enthusiast (Damia Bouic) and three professional scientists (Thomas Widemann, Emmanuel Marcq, and Colin Wilson). Bouic has dived into a data set and processed images, and Widemann, Marcq, and Wilson have interpreted them. In the blog post below, the scientists' words are set off in block quotes preceded by "WMW"; the rest of the text and all the images are Damia's work. --ESL


Akatsuki (also known as PLANET-C and Venus Climate Orbiter) is a Japanese mission that launched almost eight years ago, in 2010. It missed its first attempt to orbit Venus on December 7, 2010 due to the failure of its orbital insertion rocket. It was only on December 7, 2015, after several years of wandering around the Sun, that Akatsuki succeeded in placing itself in orbit around the enigmatic planet. Even though the new orbit of Akatsuki is distant and highly elongated, a large portion of the original science objectives may still be achieved.

That's Akatsuki's story. I was not very interested in this mission until one day when curiosity took me to its website, where I found the archival images from the mission. I thought it might be nice to try to process some images, just to see what happened. I am not disappointed with the result, which I present to you below.

Thomas Widemann, Emmanuel Marcq, and Colin Wilson (WMW): Damia's images are fabulous, and details emerge that are completely new to us.

I focused on the data from two cameras. The UVI camera captures images in ultraviolet wavelengths, at 283 and 365 nanometers. It is intended to observe the atmosphere of the planet in great detail. These allow me to make false-colour images [using 283nm in the blue channel and 365nm in the red], after some small manipulation to build a synthetic green channel. The IR2 camera permits -- among other things -- a view of the intense heat emanating from the planet's atmosphere on its night side.

WMW: UVI is seeing sunlight reflected from upper clouds and hazes lying at around 65-75 kilometers altitude. The IR2 camera reveals features in the lower clouds of Venus, at 48 to 55 kilometers above the surface. At these wavelengths, the clouds are backlit: darker regions in the images show thicker clouds.

Venus' nightside glow

JAXA / ISAS / DARTS / Damia Bouic

Venus' nightside glow
This image shows the night side of Venus in thermal infrared. It is a false-colour image using data from Akatsuki's IR2 camera in two wavelengths, 1.74 and 2.26 microns. Darker regions denote thicker clouds, but changes in color can also denote differences in cloud particle size or composition from place to place.

WMW: False color images like these are ideal for identifying features like storms or plumes of acidic droplets. ESA’s Venus Express had great views of polar regions and the same technique was used to study unusual clouds in the polar vortex. The Akatsuki images, on the other hand, show low latitude regions and have higher spatial resolution: they show all kinds of new details and features that may be correlated to surface topography . They can also be used to monitor the cloud motions as dynamical tracers of the horizontal winds in the lower cloud region.

Global view of Venus in ultraviolet from Akatsuki

JAXA / ISAS / DARTS / Damia Bouic

Global view of Venus in ultraviolet from Akatsuki
A false-color image using two ultraviolet channels from Akatsuki's UVI camera at 283 nm and 365 nm distinguishes different components of the Venusian atmosphere.

WMW: The upper cloud is mainly composed of sulphuric acid, but includes other minor constituents such as liquid water and an unknown UV absorber. This unknown UV absorber shows up particularly in the 365 nm images. In contrast, the other UV channel at 285 nm is also sensitive to sulphur dioxide, a gas which may originally have been emitted from volcanoes (volcanism is the main source of SO2 on Earth, this is likely to be the case on Venus as well).

Global view of Venus in ultraviolet from Akatsuki, May 17, 2016

JAXA / ISAS / DARTS / Damia Bouic

Global view of Venus in ultraviolet from Akatsuki, May 17, 2016
A false-color image using the two ultraviolet channels from Akatsuki's UVI camera. Note the distinction between the broad, more turbulent tropical regions and the clear, smoother polar regions.

WMW: The variations in color in these Images show the relative importance of the unknown UV cloud absorber and the sulphur dioxide plumes from the lower atmosphere that regularly burst through the clouds. Actually, sulphur dioxide survives only for a few hours before it is destroyed by UV sunlight above the clouds into other chemical species that contribute to cloud formation. The details of where and how often sulphur dioxide is supplied above the clouds are still poorly known, and such pictures will be of great help to elucidate this question.

Venus' south pole in ultraviolet from Akatsuki, June 20, 2016

JAXA / ISAS / DARTS / Damia Bouic

Venus' south pole in ultraviolet from Akatsuki, June 20, 2016
A false-color image using two ultraviolet channels from Akatsuki's UVI camera, showing details along a colourful band encircling Venus' south polar vortex in morning daylight.

WMW: Smoother polar regions and streaky clouds point to non-turbulent horizontal flow that dominates over buoyant convection at high latitudes.

Venus' coupled dynamics and sulfur chemistry from Akatsuki, July 23, 2016

JAXA / ISAS / DARTS / Damia Bouic

Venus' coupled dynamics and sulfur chemistry from Akatsuki, July 23, 2016
A false-color image using two ultraviolet channels from Akatsuki's UVI camera. Venus' cloud dynamics are just as complex as Earth's.

WMW: Mottled and spotty clouds at low latitudes indicate vigorous convective activity, where most of the solar energy is deposited within the clouds. This convective mixing brings the ultraviolet absorbers up from depth and increases the delivery of sulfur dioxide (SO2) to the cloud top. SO2 photodissociates under the effect of the solar radiation and, reversely, is formed by SO oxidation; further oxidation leads to SO3 formation. Finally, in combination with water vapor, it produces concentrated liquid sulfuric acid cloud droplets (75% H2SO4).

Following are more images from the IR2 camera.

Half-Venus from Akatsuki, August 24, 2016

JAXA / ISAS / DARTS / Damia Bouic

Half-Venus from Akatsuki, August 24, 2016
Damia Bouic's first attempt at processing the recently released Akatsuki image data set. A false-color image using two ultraviolet channels from Akatsuki's UVI camera.
Equatorial region of Venus from Akatsuki

JAXA / ISAS / DARTS / Damia Bouic

Equatorial region of Venus from Akatsuki
Images acquired during orbit number 13 of the Japanese probe Akatsuki show an incredible amount of detail on the equatorial, tropical, and extra-tropical clouds of the planet. Color changes indicate local variations in the amounts of the mysterious ultraviolet absorber and sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere.
Global view of Venus from Akatsuki

JAXA / ISAS / DARTS / Damia Bouic

Global view of Venus from Akatsuki
This view of Venus was captured during Akatsuki's 13th orbit.

Edit of January 11th. Added 5 images, including IR2 images.

Venus in infrared from Akatsuki

JAXA / ISAS / DARTS / Damia Bouic

Venus in infrared from Akatsuki
This view of Venus was acquired by Akatsuki's spacecraft's IR2 camera, which observes—among other things—the warm glow of the planet's atmosphere on its night side.

These images must be understood as "masks" or "negatives." Heat emanates from the deep layers of the atmosphere and is blocked by the thick cloud layer. 

WMW: Brighter areas have higher brightness temperature, but in fact the underlying glowing lower atmoshere is remarkably uniform in terms of temperature horizontal variability. Contrasts in the Akatsuki photo are entirely due to the cloud thickness more than 20 kilometers above the glowing layer.

Venus in infrared from Akatsuki

JAXA / ISAS / DARTS / Damia Bouic

Venus in infrared from Akatsuki
This view of Venus was acquired by the Japanese Akatsuki spacecraft's IR2 camera, which observes—among other things—the "warmth" of the planet's atmosphere on its nocturnal side.

As we can see, Venus is a planet with complex meteorology.

Venus in infrared from Akatsuki

JAXA / ISAS / DARTS / Damia Bouic

Venus in infrared from Akatsuki
This view of Venus was acquired by the Japanese Akatsuki spacecraft's IR2 camera, which observes—among other things—the "warmth" of the planet's atmosphere on its nocturnal side.

This image of great detail shows what seems to be a turbulent boundary (dark area sawtooth).

Venus in infrared from Akatsuki

JAXA / ISAS / DARTS / Damia Bouic

Venus in infrared from Akatsuki
This view of Venus was acquired by the Japanese Akatsuki spacecraft's IR2 camera, which observes—among other things—the "warmth" of the planet's atmosphere on its nocturnal side.

Venus in UV from Akatsuki

JAXA / ISAS / DARTS / Damia Bouic

Venus in UV from Akatsuki
The Japanese Akatsuki spacecraft captured this image with its UV1 band, showing remarkable details on the entire temperate and tropical band of Venus.

Composite view of Venus from Akatsuki

JAXA / ISAS / DARTS / Damia Bouic

Composite view of Venus from Akatsuki
Composite view consisting of two images taken at two different distances, allowing amateur image processor Damia Bouic to fill some gaps to create this detailed view of Venus. Taken using the UV1 filter, many details are revealed, especially in terms of convective activity in the venusian atmosphere.

WMW: Damia's work reveals the detail and beauty of the Akatsuki observations. We hope that several readers will be inspired to also work with this data, and so trigger significant advances in our understanding of Venus. There will be a Venus town hall at LPSC in March. Those beautiful images should definitely be shown.

Read more: pretty pictures, amateur image processing, Akatsuki (Planet-C), Venus, global views

You are here:
Comments & Sharing
MER
Let's Change the World

Become a member of The Planetary Society and together we will create the future of space exploration.

Join Today

Emily Lakdwalla
The Planetary Fund

Support enables our dedicated journalists to research deeply and bring you original space exploration articles.

Donate