By Lancelot Thomas Hogben
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Extra resources for The Vocabulary of Science
More generally, pressure varies as exp(−dz/H), but in all cases the scale height is a useful measure of atmospheric thickness. 5 km. How high is the 100-mbar level on Venus? How thick is the pile of blankets? The surface pressure on Venus is 92 bar—92 times the sea level pressure on Earth. 8 scale heights from the surface to the 100 mbar level. 69 scale heights from the surface to the 500 mbar level. Because the pressure range is so much greater for Venus than for Earth, the height where the planets radiate to space is much greater as well.
However, these models neglect the horizontal variations in the amount of sunlight—the difference between day and night, equator and poles, winter and summer. Venus is like Earth in that the Sun is nearly overhead at the equator and low on the horizon at the poles. Actually the effect is more pronounced at Venus because the spin axis is almost exactly perpendicular to the orbit plane, whereas Earth’s spin axis is tilted at 23°. The tilt angle is called the obliquity, and the obliquity causes the seasons—the north pole is in sunlight for half the year and the south pole is in sunlight for the other half.
Thus T4 = (0 + Te4)/2, or T = Te/21/4. This is the simplest way to estimate the stratospheric temperature of a planet. For most planets it gives a reasonable estimate of the temperature minimum—the tropopause. Temperature usually increases above the tropopause because other heat sources become important. The gas density is extremely low, so even a small amount of sunlight or dissipating waves can raise the temperature. Venus has a lower value of Te than Earth despite being closer to the Sun because the Venus albedo is so much higher.