Category Archives: Venus

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

An Occult Event


Moon and Venus on Earth Day, April 22, 2009

Moon and Venus on Earth Day, April 22, 2009

This past Thursday, April 23, skywatchers were treated to a special event: the moon occulting (hiding) Venus. During the early morning hours (exact time depending on location) the crescent moon passed across Venus, obscuring it from Earth’s view.

This image was taken by David Cortner, a photographer in North Carolina. It shows a large-scale moon with Venus’ shining crescent, just about to be covered, in the blue-grey morning light. Click for a full resolution version.

This image was selected as NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day for the following Friday. Amazing shot David!

Image © David Cortner. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

A Featureless Face

The Blank Face of Venus

The Blank Face of Venus

This photo taken by the Messenger spacecraft in June of last year shows the ghostly pale and nearly featureless face of Venus, our sister planet. Shot in visible light and RGB-calibrated by Gordan Ugarkovic, the global shroud of Venus’ oppressive (and corrosive) atmosphere lacks the swirling detail seen in most photos of the planet, which must be imaged in ultraviolet or infrared wavelengths to discern any details in the cloud cover.

In human eyes, Venus is a bone-grey cue ball.

Although nearly the same size as Earth, and just one orbital step closer to the Sun, Venus is as utterly inhospitable to us as a planet could be. Sulphuric acid-laden clouds churn at hurricane speeds over a parched surface baking in 800º heat, crushed beneath the pressure of the dense atmosphere above. Even with a way to combat the heat, standing on the surface of Venus would be impossible for a human…the air pressure is 90 times what it is here on Earth. It would be like getting out of a submarine 3,300 feet underwater. Even the robotic surface missions sent to Venus – the Soviet Venera landers in the early 70s – only lasted a short time before succumbing to the harsh environment.

Named after the goddess of love, Venus is also protective of her secrets.

Image credit: NASA/Gordan Ugarkovic


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