Category Archives: Venus

A Varying Venusian Vortex

Animation of Venus' southern polar vortex made from VIRTIS thermal infrared images; white is cooler clouds at higher altitudes.

Our neighboring planet Venus really is a world of extremes; searing surface temperatures, crushing air pressure, sulfuric acid clouds…Venus pretty much pushes the envelope on every aspect of rocky-planet existence. And now here’s one more thing that made scientists do a double-take: a shape-shifting vortex swirling around Venus’ south pole!

The presence of a cyclonic storm around Venus’ poles – both north and south –  has been known since Mariner 10’s pass in 1974 and then afterwards during the Pioneer Venus mission when a downwardly-spiraling formation of clouds over the planet’s north pole was imaged in infrared. It wasn’t until ESA’s Venus Express orbiter arrived in 2006 that the cyclone at the south pole was directly observed via the Visible and Infrared Thermal Imaging Spectrometer (VIRTIS) instrument…and it proved to be much stranger than anything previously expected. Read the rest of this entry

From the LITD Archives: But What About Venus?

Originally posted on April 7, 2009, only two months after Lights in the Dark launched:

Venus in Infrared

Venus in Ultraviolet

I haven’t posted anything yet about our other neighboring planet, Venus, mostly because the currently active mission exploring it, the European Space Agency’s Venus Express orbiter, hasn’t been updating much with new images since I’ve begun this site. Still, Venus deserves some attention, so here’s a quick byte of Venus info.

Artist's Concept of Venus

Artist's Concept of Venus

Possibly the most inhospitable of planets in our solar system, the “evening star” Venus is permanently enshrouded by thick yellowish-beige clouds. In order to see any cloud structure at all, images must be made in other wavelengths of light….infrared, or ultraviolet (above). In these wavelengths invisible to our eyes, the swirling structures of Venus’ atmosphere can be made out. And what an atmosphere it is! An example of greenhouse effect to the nth degree, our neighboring Venus is a virtual oven…its scorched, rocky surface baked by 800ºF + temperatures beneath the crushing weight of its own incredibly dense atmosphere, standing “sea level” on Venus would be like being hundreds of feet underwater, just in terms of pressure per square inch. And if the heat and pressure weren’t enough, the skies are full of clouds made of corrosive sulphuric acid as well, lit by bolts of lightning and and whipped by incredible planet-wide winds clocked in the hundreds of miles per hour. All Earth-based probes that landed there (such as the Soviet Venera-13, seen below) only lasted moments on the surface before they succumbed to Venus’ destructive environment.

Venus from Venera-13

Venus from Venera-13

Venus is, quite literally, a hellish place. And, oddly enough, it is the planet that most resembles Earth, in terms of size and composition. It’s an example of how being just that much closer to the sun, without the benefit of any carbon-dioxide processing life forms like Earth has developed, drastically changes an entire planet. I may not be the most militant tree-hugger but I do realize the unmistakable effect plant life has on our world. Venus shows us what Earth could have been. Quite easily. And very well could still become. And that’s why the ESA’s Venus Express mission is so important.

More images from the Venus Express mission here.

Image credit: ESA/MPS/DLR/IDA. Venera-13 image remapped by Don P. Mitchell.


Update: check out this great article on Venus by Robert Lamb, posted today March 22, 2011!


Like Ships in the Night


Akatsuki's image of a crescent Venus

So close, but yet so far.

In a poignant farewell, Japan’s Akatsuki spacecraft returned this image of Venus as it sped off into space, its attempt at establishing orbit having failed on Wednesday, December 8. The $300 million scientific observatory was created to study the atmosphere of our neighboring planet, as well as use its specially-designed cameras to pierce Venus’ opaque sulfuric-acid clouds to search for volcanoes and other surface features. After making the five-and-a-half month journey to Venus, Akatsuki’s orbital insertion did not go as planned and it soon became evident that the spacecraft had missed its mark, with no chance of another attempt anytime soon. Very sad.

“To have a perfectly functioning spacecraft with all those great instruments make it all that way across the depths, and then because of some problem with a 12 minute operation, to go sailing off back into the blackness…”

– David Grinspoon, American participant on the Akatsuki team

JAXA mission scientists are hopeful that, with fully-functioning thrusters on Akatsuki, they do have a good chance to “try again” in six years, when the positioning of the spacecraft and Venus may allow for it. Until then, all anyone can do is wait and stay hopeful.

Read more on The Planetary Society’s blog.

Image: ISAS / JAXA.

Out of the Blue

Earth as seen by the departing Akatsuki probe

Japan’s Akatsuki (PLANET-C) spacecraft, launched on May 20, captured this image of home as it sped away on its six-month journey to Venus. Using its ultraviolet camera Akatsuki (“Dawn” in Japanese) saw the crescent Earth as a bright electric blue from a distance of over 155,000 miles away, on May 21, 2010.

Akatsuki (as well as the IKAROS spacecraft, also launched on May 20) are doing well and on their way  to Venus. Akatsuki will arrive at our planetary neighbor in December and spend two years studying its dense, turbulent atmosphere – in particular its curiously fast movement; at 220 mph it moves around Venus 60 times faster than the planet itself rotates. IKAROS, the first solar sail spacecraft, will pause briefly at Venus before heading towards the far side of the Sun.

Image: JAXA

Send your message to Venus!

My ticket to Venus!

My ticket to Venus!

The AKATSUKI Message Campaign

Next year, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) will launch its Planet-C Venus Climate Orbiter, which will explore the atmosphere of Venus and investigate wind dynamics, cloud formation and other meteorological mechanics of Earth’s neighboring planet. And from now until December 25, you can register online to add your name and a short message to be included digitally aboard the orbiter!

I’m on board….click here to send your message!

Watch this to learn more about Venus and the AKATSUKI mission:

And thanks to Emily at The Planetary Society for posting about this!

The Oceans of Venus?

Venus from Venera-13

Venus from Venera-13

It’s hard to imagine, with its pressure-cooked 800º baked-rock surface, but Venus may have once had oceans, suggests data from the European Space Agency’s Venus Express orbiter.

Venus' South Side

Venus' South Side

Extensive infrared mapping of Venus’ southern hemisphere shows large areas of rock that appears to be granite. Granite, as we know it on Earth, is formed when basalt is pushed down below the crust by tectonic actions, mixed with water and then brought back to the surface by volcanic activity. There it hardens into granite….the main building blocks of the continents.

Granite radiates heat at specific wavelengths, as do all materials, and Venus Express’ spectrometer has charted these different radiations from orbit. The data was then assembled into a comprehensive map of the southern half of the planet. The findings hint at the past life of Venus….one with volcanic activity, continental movements, and possibly even oceans like ours.

“If there is granite on Venus, there must have been an ocean and plate tectonics in the past.”

Venus is structurally very similar to Earth. Same basic size, same rocky composition, similar gravity… similar distance from the sun.But Venus is now wrapped in a much denser carbon dioxide atmosphere, holding in the sun’s heat and literally both baking and crushing the surface with heat and pressure. The existence of water there now is impossible, but it may not have always been the case. This is what the infrared map is telling us.

Venus is important to study because it is so similar to our own planet. Is Venus what Earth may one day become? Is Earth what Venus may have once been? At one time the two worlds were probably identical, yet went down very different paths. Luckily for us our planet became what it did. But it is important to investigate the alternative result too… after all, the story’s not over yet.

Read more here.

Image credit: ESA/MPS/DLR/IDA. Venera-13 image remapped by Don P. Mitchell.

Will Worlds Collide?

According to a June 10 article in New Scientist, studies on the variable nature of planetary orbits have shown some valid possibilities of collisions in the future. (The very distant future, luckily for us.)

Due to the nature of Jupiter’s massive gravitational pull on the inner planets, especially Mercury, their orbits are susceptible to incredible variances over time and thousands of different scenarios have been plotted via computer models. In some of these scenarios, Earth switches places with Venus and in some of those instances the two meet face-to-face in a fatal rendezvous. In other instances, Mars is the one to call on Earth, and in yet others some of the inner planets are thrown out of the solar system entirely.

…Mars could hit Earth directly, be thrown out of the solar system, or come so close that Earth’s gravity would tear it into pieces which would rain down on our heads.

Don’t cancel your vacation plans or max out your credit cards just yet though….these catastrophic events are still just computer-generated theories, and all take place millions – even billions – of years in the future, if at all. We’ll be long gone by then, either as a species entirely or else living amongst the stars, or who knows where else.

But….that’s another hypothetical story altogether.

Original story: Animation: J Vidal-Madjar/NASA/IMCCE-CNRS


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