The most spectacular images of Venus ever captured

Long ago Venus was dubbed Earth’s twin, a world roughly the same size as our home planet and the closest neighbor in space.

But as scientists have learned more about the toxic world, Venus has received a reputation as its evil brother: a hellish landscape, where the thick atmosphere traps heat in an out-of-control greenhouse effect, making it the hottest planet in the solar system. despite being further than Mercury from the sun.

This bizarre world, with surface temperatures of around 900 degrees Fahrenheit, rotates fairly slowly in the opposite direction of Earth, with the sun rising in the west and setting in the east. A Venusian day is actually longer than its year. The swirling clouds rain down sulfuric acid and the planet has the most volcanoes in the solar system, according to NASA. An astronomer recently discovered a volcanic eruption there, evidence that, though inhospitable, the planet is still geologically active.

Venus may once have been an oceanic world capable of life, but that would have been a billion years ago. Scientists want to know how Venus evolved into Earth’s alter ego. However, studying the planet has not been easy.

Check out some of the best images captured of Venus, moments before the camera froze.


The most extraordinary space images captured so far in 2023

NASA’s solar probe passes by photo of Venus

Probe flying close to Venus

The Parker Solar Probe, which studies the sun, captured rare images of Venus’ night side during a brief encounter in February 2021.

The Parker Solar Probe, which studies the sun, captured rare images of Venus’ night side during a brief encounter in February 2021.

The dark area shown is a massive mountainous region called Aphrodite Terra, which spans about two-thirds of the planet. Because of its elevation, it is cooler and therefore darker. Scientists also think the bright rim around the planet could be “nightglow,” a phenomenon caused by the interaction of atmospheric particles that emit light during the night.

Although the probe’s target is the sun, Venus is also important to the mission. The robotic spacecraft will fly by Venus seven times during its journey, using the planet’s gravity to bend its orbit. These maneuvers give Parker the impetus to fly ever closer to the sun in his quest to study the solar wind, the source of space weather, and its origins.

Scientist discovers that the volcano still erupts on Venus

Visualization of the Maat Mans Volcano in 3D

NASA’s Magellan snapped this image of Maat Mons, the tallest volcano on Venus. The planet has the largest number of volcanoes in the solar system.
Credit: NASA/JPL

A research professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks has examined 30 years of old images from NASA’s Magellan mission to find evidence of volcanic activity. Eventually, he found a needle in a haystack.

Inside the archives, Robert Herrick discovered that a volcano had a vent that doubled in size and changed shape in eight months in 1991 – telltale signs it had erupted – making this 3D image of Maat Mons Volcano all the more intriguing.

Herrick spotted a lava lake at Atla Regio, a vast plateau near the equator of Venus with the volcanoes Ozza Mons and Maat Mons. Planetary scientists have long suspected(opens in a new tab) the region is volcanically active, according to NASA, but so far there is no direct evidence.

Active volcanoes help scientists understand the impact a planet’s interior has in shaping its crust, forging continents and mountains, and potentially helping life emerge. One of NASA’s upcoming missions to Venus will further this research. Within a decade, the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory hopes to lead VERITAS(opens in a new tab) – short for Venus Emissivity, Radio science, InSAR, Topography, And Spectroscopy – to study the rocky planet from the surface to the core.

The Magellan mission made the first global map of Venus

NASA takes a global view of Venus

NASA used radar images from the Magellan mission to stitch together this patchwork of the planet’s surface to create a global view.
Credit: NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory-Caltech

Although NASA’s Magellan mission landed on Venus over 30 years ago, its legacy continues. The spacecraft made the first global map(opens in a new tab) of the planet’s surface, one of the most famous portraits of Venus ever made.

This image used Magellanic radar to stitch together a global patchwork. NASA supplemented the missing data with information from the Pioneer Venus Orbiter(opens in a new tab). The colors were selected based on those captured by the Soviet Union’s surface missions to Venus in the 1970s and 1980s.

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Magellan was responsible for surprising discoveries on Venus, including that lava may have re-emerged from the entire planet in its relatively recent past. The mission ended in October 1994 when the spacecraft intentionally crashed into the planet’s surface.

Venusian clouds move faster than the Cat-5 hurricane

ESA observes the clouds of Venus

The European Space Agency’s Venus Express captured clouds over the planet’s southern hemisphere in this ultraviolet light image in July 2007.

Most people wouldn’t expect to see Venus in an almost Earth-like shade of blue, but this is the planet in false-color ultraviolet wavelengths. In this light, the European Space Agency’s Venus Express mission has captured details of the planet’s mysterious clouds(opens in a new tab) over the Southern Hemisphere in July 2007.

ESA wasn’t the first to do something like this: NASA’s Galileo spacecraft(opens in a new tab) observed the clouds of Venus about 1.7 million miles from the planet in February 1990. The image above, however, shows the planet’s southern hemisphere from a distance of 22,000 miles from the surface.

On Venus, hurricane-force winds blow clouds miles thick around the planet. While the planet rotates slowly on its axis, completing one revolution in 243 Earth days, its clouds move at a dizzyingly faster pace, circling the planet in just four days. Additionally, the mission found that the planet’s rotation is slowing down, while its clouds are speeding up(opens in a new tab).

Venus crosses in front of the sun during a rare event

Venus transiting the sun

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory mission took photos of Venus as it moved across the face of the sun on June 5, 2012, in an astronomical event known as the transit of Venus.

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory mission(opens in a new tab) took photos of Venus as it moved in front of the early morning sun on June 5, 2012, in an astronomical event known as the transit of Venus. The next such transit won’t happen until 2117, according to the space agency.

The transit of Venus first attracted attention in the 18th century, when the distance of the planets was not yet known. Astronomer Edmund Halley realized by observing the transit from several widely spaced points on Earth, scientists should be able to triangulate the distance to Venus.

Planet-crossing is extremely rare, coming in pairs separated by more than a century.

The Japanese orbiter Akatsuki studies the climate of Venus

Images of Venus in Japan

The Japanese space agency JAXA’s Akatsuki mission, aka Planet-C or Venus Climate Orbiter, studies the planet’s atmosphere from orbit with an ultraviolet imager. Sulfur dioxide causes some clouds to appear dark due to the absorption of sunlight.

This serene view of Venus came from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Akatsuki spacecraft(opens in a new tab)the nation’s first successful mission to explore another planet.

Launched in 2010, the JAXA spacecraft missed its mark and didn’t enter Venus orbit until 2015. Since then, the mission, sometimes known as Planet-C or the Venus Climate Orbiter, has circled back, studying the weather models, trying to confirm lightning strikes in the clouds and looking for signs of active volcanoes.

In this ultraviolet image(opens in a new tab) of the planet’s atmosphere from orbit, which uses false color, sulfur dioxide causes some clouds to appear dark due to the absorption of sunlight.

The Soviets took the only photos from the surface of Venus

Soviet spacecraft observing the surface of Venus

VENERA 9 and 10:
The Soviet space program managed to land on Venus long enough in 1975 to capture images before the landers died.
Credit: Russian Space Agency / NSSDCA

VENERA 13 and 14:
Soviet spacecraft captured the surface of Venus in color in 1982.
Credit: Russian Space Agency / NSSDCA

These may not be the most intriguing images of Venus, but they represent a historic achievement. The Soviet Union was – and remains – the only nation that ever attempted to land on the planet’s surface.

It took several attempts(opens in a new tab)but Venera 9 and 10 spacecraft managed to land and survive on the planet long enough to send images in 1975. Two later missions, Venera 13 and 14, also landed in 1982, sending color images.

The Venus Landing Challenge(opens in a new tab) is extraordinary: its climate is hot enough to melt lead and the atmospheric pressure is 75 times that of Earth. All of the Soviet spacecraft eventually fried themselves in the heat, within 23 minutes to two hours after arrival, but captured the barren, rocky landscape.

The European spacecraft observes the polar vortex for a long time

Venus Express studies a polar vortex on Venus

This mass of swirling gas and cloud was found at the south pole of Venus by the European Space Agency’s Venus Express spacecraft in April 2007.
Credit: ESA/VIRTIS/INAF-IASF/Ob. de Paris-LESIA / Univ. Oxford

The Pioneer Venus orbiter(opens in a new tab) spotted a huge hourglass-shaped depression in the clouds, about 1,200 miles wide, at Venus’s north pole in 1979. But the planet’s south pole remained largely a mystery to astronomers until the Venus Express arrived European.

A vortex can form when heated air from the equatorial region, carried by a fast wind, spirals towards a pole. As air converges on the pole and then sinks, it creates a phenomenon similar to the way water swirls around a bathtub drain.

The image above, captured by Venus Express in 2007, shows the southern polar vortex(opens in a new tab) in detail. During several observations, the orbiter found that the vortex changes its shape every day. This swirl of gas and clouds is about 37 miles above the planet’s surface.

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