Mostly Mute Monday: Underneath Your Clouds

Discovering the face of Earth’s sister planet, Venus, beneath its cloudy veil.


“Now, Venus is an extremely hostile environment, and as such presents a lot of challenges for a science fiction author who wants to create life there. However, as I began to research it more thoroughly, I found myself intrigued by the possibilities the world offers.” -Sarah Zettel
Images credit: ESA/MPS, Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany / Venus Express (L); NASA / Mariner 10 / Calvin J. Hamilton (R).
Image credit: ESA, of an artist’s impression of Venus’ surface. Via http://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2005/08/Artist_s_impression_of_the_Venusian_surface.
Image credit: PHL @ UPR Arecibo, NASA, of Venus with no clouds. Via http://phl.upr.edu/library/media/therealcolorsofvenuswithouttheclouds.
Image credit: NASA / JPL / Magellan, via http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/multimedia/display.cfm?Category=Planets&IM_ID=13244.
Image credit: NASA / JPL / Magellan, via http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA00102.
Image credit: NASA / JPL / Magellan, via http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA00246.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA, via http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA13001.
Image credit: NASA / JPL / Magellan, of Maat Mons, the highest mountain on Venus. Via http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/pia00254.
Image credit: NASA / JPL / Magellan, of Sif and Gula Mons, via http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA00200.

As the brightest planet in the night sky and closest planet to Earth (at closest approach), Venus — at almost our identical size and composition — has long been regarded as Earth’s sister. But whereas Earth’s thin atmosphere and distance from the Sun allows for liquid water on our planet’s surface, Venus’ carbon dioxide and sulfuric acid atmosphere, 90 times as thick as Earth’s and covered in constant layers of clouds, has become a cosmic oven. At constant surface temperatures, day-or-night, of 465°C (870 °F), it’s hot enough to melt lead on its surface. The only spacecrafts to land and take pictures on Venus (the Soviet Venera landers) lasted mere seconds before roasting.

Image credit: USSR Venera 9 lander, © 2003,2004 Don P. Mitchell.
Image credit: USSR Venera 10 lander, © 2003,2004 Don P. Mitchell.
Image credit: USSR Venera 13 lander, © 2003,2004 Don P. Mitchell.
Image credit: USSR Venera 14 lander, © 2003,2004 Don P. Mitchell.

Over the past few months, you may have noticed Venus shining brightly in the evening sky, far outshining even Jupiter, which makes its closest angular approach to Venus in 2,000 years on Tuesday evening. As you watch the spectacular visual that this conjunction provides, think about the magnificent, intricate surface beneath the atmosphere, visible only either beneath the cloudy cover of our sister planet or through the atmosphere itself, by observing its surface from above in the infrared.

Image credit: E. Siegel, using the free software Stellarium, of Venus and Jupiter as they will appear at 9:30 PM on the evening of Tuesday, June 30th. Regulus is up and to the left; Castor and Pollux are lower and towards the right.
Image credit: E. Siegel, using the free software Stellarium, of Venus and Jupiter as they will appear at 9:30 PM through a telescope with a 0.5-to-1 degree field of view on the evening of Tuesday, June 30th.
Image credit: NASA/JPL/USGS, of the false-colored topography of one of Venus’ hemispheres. Via https://solarsystem.nasa.gov//multimedia/display.cfm?IM_ID=9603.
Image credit: NASA/JPL/USGS, of the false-colored topography of the other of Venus’ hemispheres. Via https://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/imagegallery/image_feature_1836.html.

Mostly Mute Monday tells the story of a single astronomical phenomenon or object in visuals, images, video and no more than 200 words.

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