Exploring the Goddess of Love and Beauty

Artist's impression of the surface of Venus. Credit: ESA

Artist’s impression of the surface of Venus. Credit: ESA

Venus is often described as Earth’s sister planet. It is darned near the same size and mass as Earth with an orbit closer to the Sun. It is the third most luminous object in the sky (after the Sun and the Moon), and was probably named after the goddess of love and beauty because of its brightness. But despite it’s initial attractiveness and the surface similarities between it and Earth, we now know it is far from hospitable at this time.

Efforts to explore the world have been difficult. Soviet Venera missions and U.S. Mariner missions both met great difficulties and failures attributable to the hostile environment. The Venera 3 probe crash-landed on Venus on March 1, 1966 and was the first man-made object to enter the atmosphere and strike the surface of another planet. The Soviets were the most tenacious explorers. There were sixteen Venera missions in all, including some flybys, orbiters and landers. Venera 13 actually landed successfully, worked for 127 minutes under the surface’s great pressure of 89 times that of Earth and at a temperature of about 955-degrees fahrenheit, relaying pictures of the surface.

Surface of Venus from Venera 13. Image provided by NASA and the NSSDC

Surface of Venus from Venera 13. Image provided by NASA and the NSSDC

Two enormous atmospheric vortices with very complex shapes and behaviour rotate vertically over the poles of Venus, recycling the atmosphere downwards.

Credit: ESA - AOES Medialab

Credit: ESA – AOES Medialab

The vortex at the North pole, shown in this artist’s impression, is the only one previously studied in some detail and has a peculiar ‘double-eye’ shape, surrounded by a collar of hot air.

This vortex completes a full rotation in only three days. Venus Express’ observations will help understand how the stormy atmospheric circulation on Venus work.

Venus will be terraformed by humanity some day, but it will not be an easy task. At present, the high concentration of sulfuric acid in the atmosphere is one of the biggest challenges. But we can all look forward to the day when our descendants will enjoy the beauty of Venus from its surface, as we enjoy its beauty in the evening and morning skies.


GNU. Credit: Daein Ballard. A conceptual picture of Venus if it were terraformed. The two Hadley cells the planet has stop at 70 degrees north and south. So the polar regions are cut off from the warm air. Also the slow rotation of the planet causes the clouds to whip around the planet very fast, especially at the equator, to balance out the temperature difference between day and night sides of the planet.




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