Although similar in size to Earth, the planet-next-door Venus is typically perceived as a hellish inferno of caustic clouds, crushing pressures and kiln-like temperatures. And while those are indeed all very much the case, Venus has recently been found to have a cooler side too… although it’s 125 km (77 miles) up in its atmosphere.
A Soyuz TMA-03M capsule descended to the steppes of Kazakhstan this morning at 4:14 a.m., returning Expedition 31 crew members Oleg Kononenko, Don Pettit and André Kuipers to Earth after 193 days working aboard the Space Station.
The dramatic photo above was captured by NASA photographer Bill Ingalls, showing the Soyuz vehicle as it parachuted down through the clouds.
More photos below…
The end is definitely near… for comet Lovejoy, at least. The bright sungrazing comet was discovered on December 2, 2011, by Australian amateur astronomer Terry Lovejoy using a ground-based telescope. It was quickly seen that the comet was on a doomsday dive toward the Sun and will not likely survive its close pass of our home star during the next several hours.
UPDATE: Lovejoy Lives! The comet re-emerged from the other side of the Sun after passing behind it tonight… this is one tough little traveler! See its revival here.
ESA’s Mars Express orbiter has imaged yet more evidence of a watery past on Mars with what appears to be the remains of a river delta, seen here, located just within the 40-mile (65-km) -wide Eberswalde Crater.
Formed over 3.7 billion years ago, Eberswalde Crater was in the top 4 list of possible landing sites for the Mars Science Laboratory, slated to launch this November. In the end Gale Crater was selected, but Eberswalde is still a fascinating place to study from orbit since it’s been suspected that the crater was once filled with liquid water. The discovery of this delta sure helps to confirm that theory! Read the rest of this entry
Deep gashes – called grabens – slice across the surface in the Nili Fossae region of Mars, seen above in an image from the Mars Express orbiter taken in February 2008.
A German word meaning “ditch”, a graben is a downthrust strip of land bordered by scarps on either side. They are typically caused by extension of the surface, and in the case of Nili Fossae may be the result of the impact that created the huge Isidis impact basin where they are found…formed as the Martian crust sagged beneath the weight of the lava flows that covered the area after the impact.
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
Originally posted on April 7, 2009, only two months after Lights in the Dark launched:
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.
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 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!