Adam Trahan –
Andi Petculescu –

University of Louisiana at Lafayette
Physics Department
240 Hebrard Blvd., Broussard Hall
Lafayette, LA 70503-2067

Popular version of paper 3aPA8
Presented Wednesday morning, May 9, 2018
175th ASA Meeting, Minneapolis, MN


Artist’s rendition of the envisioned HAVOC mission. (Credit: NASA Systems Analysis and Concepts Directorate,

The motivation for this research stems from NASA’s proposed High Altitude Venus Operational Concept (HAVOC), which, if successful, would lead to a possible month-long human presence above the cloud layer of Venus.

The atmosphere of Venus is composed of primarily carbon dioxide with small amounts of Nitrogen and other trace molecules in the parts-per-million. With surface temperatures exceeding that of Earth’s by about 2.5 times and pressures roughly 100 times, the Venusian surface is quite a hostile environment. Higher into the atmosphere, however, the environment becomes relatively benign, with temperatures and pressures similar to those at Earth’s surface. In the 40-70 km region, condensational sulfuric acid clouds prevail, which contribute to the so-called “runaway greenhouse” effect.

The main condensable species on Venus is a binary mixture of sulfuric acid dissolved in water. The existence of aqueous sulfuric acid droplets is restricted to a thin region in Venus’ atmosphere, namely40-70 km from the surface. Nothing more than a light haze can exist in liquid form above and below this main cloud layer due to evaporation below and above. Inside the cloud layer, there exist three further sublayers; the upper cloud layer is produced using energy from the sun, while the lower and middle cloud layers are produced via condensation. The goal of this research is to determine how the lower and middle condensational cloud layers, affect the propagation of a sound waves, as they travel through the atmosphere.

It is true that for most waves to travel there must be a medium present, except for the case of electromagnetic waves (light), which are able to travel through the vacuum of space. But for sound waves, a fluid (gas or liquid) is necessary to support the wave. The presence of tiny particles affects the propagation of acoustic waves via energy loss processes; these effects have been well studied in Earth’s atmosphere. Using theoretical and numerical techniques, we are able to predict how much an acoustic wave would be weakened (attenuated) for every kilometer traveled in Venus’ clouds.


Figure 2. The frequency dependence of the wave attenuation coefficient. The attenuation is stronger at high frequencies, with a large transition region between 1 and 100 Hz.

Figure 2 shows how the attenuation parameter changes with frequency. At higher frequencies (greater than 100 Hz), the attenuation is larger than at lower frequencies, due primarily to the motion of the liquid cloud droplets as they react to the passing acoustic wave. In the lower frequency region, the attenuation is lower and is due primarily to evaporation and condensation processes, which require energy from the acoustic wave.

For the present study, the cloud environment was treated like a perfect (ideal) gas, which assumes the gas molecules behave like billiard balls, simply bouncing off one another. This assumption is valid for low-frequency sound waves. To complete the model, real-gas effects are added, to obtain the background attenuation in the surrounding atmosphere. This will enable us to predict the net amount of losses an acoustic wave is likely to experience at the projected HAVOC altitudes.

The results of this study could prove valuable for guiding the development of acoustic sensors designed to investigate atmospheric properties on Venus.

This research was sponsored by a grant from the Louisiana Space Consortium (LaSPACE).

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