April 23, 2024

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Why are there so few images of the surface of Venus?

Why are there so few images of the surface of Venus?

Venus is regularly called Earth's sister. The planet is slightly smaller than ours and has a thick cloud cover. However, we don't have many images of the surface of Venus. How did this happen?

Venus is a different planet from Earth and Mars. The planet is an inhospitable planet with a surface temperature of 465 degrees Celsius. Venus may have once been a habitable planet — complete with an Earth-like ocean and climate — but at some point our twin sister turned into the acidic hothouse it is today. The air pressure is ninety times higher than the Earth's pressure, and it rains sulfuric acid. Definitely not a nice place for robots.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Americans set their sights on Mars, so the Soviet Union decided to set its course toward another nearby planet: Venus. The Venera program was established and over twenty years produced many firsts, such as the first hard landing on a planet other than Earth (Venera 3 in 1966), and the first measurements of the alien atmosphere (Venera 4 in 1967). The first successful landing on another planet (Venera 7 in 1970).

The Russians soon noticed that Venus was like a very hot pressure cooker. Many landers were crushed by the air pressure. However, the Russians were able to land some of the landers on the surface in one piece. This resulted in the images below of Venera 9, Venera 10, Venera 13 and Venera 14. These images Sharpened by Professor Ted StrickIt revealed more details than in the original images.

A panoramic image of the surface of Venus taken by Venera 9 in 1975.
Shortly thereafter, Venera 10 imaged the surface of the second planet in the solar system.
Panoramic image taken by Venera 13 in 1982.

No spacecraft has landed on Venus since the 1980s. Actually, this is not surprising. Conditions on Mars are much more favorable. Mars rovers can roam for years and make all kinds of discoveries, while Venus landers can barely operate for an hour. In addition, the surface of Mars is less geologically active than the surface of Venus. Research shows that there are processes taking place on Venus that ensure the surface remains always young. If there was life on Venus, those traces would have long since disappeared and it is impossible to find any again. Traces of life can be found on Mars, although the instruments of the current generation of Mars rovers may not be sensitive enough to actually find life.

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But this does not mean that scientists ignore Venus. By the end of this decade — sometime between 2028 and 2030 — the VERITAS spacecraft (which stands for Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy) will be launched. The goal of this mission is to map the surface of Venus. This is interesting because direct evidence that volcanoes on Venus are still active was recently discovered for the first time. Hopefully, scientists will be able to reveal how many active volcanoes harbor Venus and whether the planet has tectonic plates.

In recent decades, space telescopes and satellites have captured beautiful images of nebulae, galaxies, stellar nurseries, and planets. Every weekend, we take a cool space photo from the archives. Enjoy all the pictures? See them on this page.