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June 5, 2010 9:24 PM   Subscribe

At a time when the US was turning its attention from the moon and towards Mars, the Soviet Union had an active exploration program for Venus, Venera. Running from 1961 to 1983, the program had setbacks from the first launch, but Venera 9 produced the first ever transmission of images from another planet.

So few camera-recorded images of Venus exists because of the planet's conditions. The atmosphere is 90 times heavier than the Earth's, and the surface temperature is 740°C. Many Venera probes were never able to transmit for more than a few seconds before shutting down. Venera 13, for its part, has sent back some amazing images.

Catalogue of the entire Venera program.

Soviet Venus Images includes a re-working of the Venera 13 photos by having them "remapped to perspective projections and overlayed (using Adobe Photoshop CS2) to produce views that give a better subjective impression of the Venusian surface". (previously)
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing (45 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite

 
Just reading "color as seen on the surface of Venus" is moving.
posted by cashman at 9:27 PM on June 5, 2010


The reworking is really neat, never saw that one before. I wish we would build more damn robots to land places, forget the manned program.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:27 PM on June 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


The composite map of the north pole in the "Soviet Venus Images" link would be fantastic to see at a higher resolution.
posted by oddman at 9:34 PM on June 5, 2010


I remember reading about this. IIRC, the probes only sent images for a few minutes, and within an hour or so after landing, they would've melted down to liquid. Freakin' melted down. Can anyone confirm this?
posted by zardoz at 9:54 PM on June 5, 2010


Huh, I'd never seen those perspective corrected images before. Interesting.
posted by delmoi at 9:56 PM on June 5, 2010


I remember reading about this. IIRC, the probes only sent images for a few minutes

Actually that 'soviet venus images' link claims the data link cut out because the orbiting repeater went out of range, but that the probe would have melted down eventually.

I'd really like to send a probe back to Venus. I think it's more interesting then mars, personally.
posted by delmoi at 9:57 PM on June 5, 2010


So why doesn't Venus have craters or much soil? Does it have something like a supermassive Deccan Flats that resurfaces the planet every so often?
posted by dunkadunc at 10:22 PM on June 5, 2010


By Deccan Flats I mean Deccan Traps, of course.
posted by dunkadunc at 10:23 PM on June 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'd really like to send a probe back to Venus.

It always comes back to that, doesn't it?
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:29 PM on June 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


The Siberian Traps (Russian: Сибирские траппы) form a large igneous province in Siberia. ... The term "traps" is derived from the Swedish word for stairs (trappa, or sometimes trapp), referring to the step-like hills forming the landscape of the region.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:34 PM on June 5, 2010


within an hour or so after landing, they would've melted down to liquid.

NASA lists the average surface temperature as 464C. 7075 aluminum (aka "aerospace aluminum") starts to melt at 475C so I suppose it's plausible. However that's really the low end of what's available out there; high speed tool steel can take about 750C and there are more exotic alloys out there like Inconel 617 that can maintain tensile strength all the way up to 1100C, possibly beyond. So it's really a matter of what it was built out of, but obviously it doesn't have to melt for the electronics to stop working which is going to be the limiting factor anyway.
posted by Rhomboid at 10:46 PM on June 5, 2010


I just read a little about this in one of Carl Sagan's books from the 70s (The Cosmic Connection). There was a bit of a Soviet-US scientific kerfuffle- the Americans tended to support the "Hot Venus" hypothesis, which supposed a planet with an immensely thick atmosphere and a runaway greenhouse effect. The Russians backed the "Cold Venus" hypothesis, which posited a more Earthlike, if inhospitable, environment.

When Venera 9 was crushed by the immense pressure of Venus' atmosphere long before hitting the ground, the party officials declared not that the Cold Venus hypothesis was incorrect, but that they had discovered an immense, five-mile high mountain on Venus, upon which their craft crashed.

Anyway, even just for the Venus chapter alone, I recommend the hell out of this book.
posted by maus at 10:50 PM on June 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


With all the technology of today I expect full HD panoramas. A mobile unit people control on Earth that roves the plains of Venus and takes pictures the entire time. It's too bad all these exploration missions took place in the 70's . Imagine the same thing now, with today's technology.
posted by sanka at 10:52 PM on June 5, 2010


So why doesn't Venus have craters or much soil?

Having a thick atmosphere protects you from most space debris. It's the same reason earth isn't covered in craters, while the moon is. Both are being bombarded with tons of rocks every day, but the earthbound rocks burn up from atmospheric friction before they reach the surface.
posted by knave at 11:16 PM on June 5, 2010


As a matter of fact, a few people I know are working right now on a proposal called SAGE (Surface and Atmosphere Geochemical Explorer), which is a Venus lander mission, with a whole raft of (closer-to) state of the art instruments (considering Venus is a really unpleasant place if you want something to work for more than a couple hours).

SAGE JPL page. NASA is selecting between SAGE and two other missions, and the selection for which mission will be funded takes place in 2011. If selected, SAGE will be launched in 2016, and get at least a good three hours of surface operation time.
posted by chimaera at 11:22 PM on June 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


These reworked images are one of the most amazing things that anyone can see, ever. I have been, for years, amazed at how few people know that anyone has ever seen such a thing.
posted by setanor at 11:55 PM on June 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's too bad all these exploration missions took place in the 70's

I know what you're saying, but it was actually totally amazing that these missions took place in the 70s. And Venus too, way to set a goal for yourselves
posted by the noob at 1:08 AM on June 6, 2010


I love Bill Bryson's take on this in A Short History of Nearly Everything:

"Our knowledge of Venus's surface is based on distant radar imagery and some startled squawks from an unmanned Soviet probe that was dropped hopefully into the clouds in 1972 and functioned for barely an hour before permanently shutting down."
posted by bwg at 1:31 AM on June 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Venus might be the place where steam-punk finally makes sense. The craft is made out of carbon, with a heat exchange that powers two piezoelectric crystals being slammed together, sending a single spark back to earth. The size of the spark, or the interval between two sparks, is scaled by the light focused on one control point, through a diamond lense. The diamond lense is ratcheted with carbon gears through a 2 dimensional scan sequence, firing off a spark for each pixel. It takes a long time to scan one image, but the thing will be there forever, so the pixels are either averaged together, or sorted by time of day.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:31 AM on June 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


knave - that's part of the story, and counts for smaller objects, but erosion caused by the water cycle is a big part of it here on Earth... while big objects that make it through the atmosphere still leave craters, the evidence gets weathered away over a relatively short period of time...
posted by russm at 2:15 AM on June 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


my favorite bit in KSR's Mars trilogy is where they send the soletta to Venus to block out the sun and cool it down to terraform it. Let's do it.
posted by moorooka at 3:00 AM on June 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


My previous comment not withstanding, it's kind of a fallacy to think that a probe has to be designed entirely from materials that can withstand the heat of the environment they're going to be operating in. You can have a cooling system to remove heat, which from what I can tell is exactly what they did to get those 53 minutes.

For example, when you see close-up footage of the Space Shuttle launching and you see those big nozzles of the main engines -- the gases coming out of that nozzle are somewhere in the order of 3300C, which is hot enough to melt any kind of metal that we can build, and yet these nozzles withstand and direct these hot gases for 8m 40s every time the shuttle launches. If you look closely you can see tubing and ductwork on them which lets some of the liquid hydrogen fuel circulate and remove heat to keep them cool.
posted by Rhomboid at 4:35 AM on June 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


Venus might be the place where steam-punk finally makes sense. The craft is made out of carbon, with a heat exchange that

Yeah, but you'd need a colder environment to dump the heat into. Otherwise no heat engine will work.
posted by atrazine at 4:57 AM on June 6, 2010


Pretty amazing post. I've never heard about this -- thanks!
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:39 AM on June 6, 2010


I'm not sure why, but these kinds of images from the surface of another world are always cooler to me than anything obtained through a telescope or a fly-by, or any amount of non-image sensor data. I know all that other stuff is, objectively, very informative and useful. But the surface images give you a real sense of what it would be like if you were standing there yourself.

Well, apart from the getting crushed by the atmosphere and/or burnt to a crisp aspect of standing on the surface of Venus, of course. The short lifetime of landers in that environment is quite depressing, but doing something about it is a hard problem. There doesn't seem to be a reasonable way of rejecting heat into an environment that hot, so you have to take along your own supply of cold matter to reject heat into. Once it's used up or heated up, it's game over.

I like that around 50-55km up in the atmosphere, the temperature and pressure are pretty close to what they are on the surface of the Earth. You could almost imagine a probe hanging out up there on a balloon, with a little camera on a very long, thin cable hanging down near the surface to take pictures. When the camera gets too hot, winch it back up again and wait for it to cool off.
posted by FishBike at 7:14 AM on June 6, 2010


There doesn't seem to be a reasonable way of rejecting heat into an environment that hot, so you have to take along your own supply of cold matter to reject heat into. Once it's used up or heated up, it's game over.

You don't need a 'source of cold'. All you need is a Stirling engine, removing heat from the core of the spacecraft and dumping it in the environment at a temperature higher than the environmental temperature. This is possible with existing technology.

There's an overview of this and other options in this PDF: Long-Lived Venus Lander Technologies.
posted by LVdB at 8:04 AM on June 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


The older I get, the more disappointed I am that we don't have probes orbiting and exploring every planet and moon in our system. We're just getting around to Mercury (less than a year to go!), there's only one checking out Venus, everyone is going nuts over Mars for some reason I don't understand, never cared much for it, we'll get a look at the asteroid belt in 2011-2012 and 2015, Jupiter got looked at by the Pluto probe and will have another mission in 2011, Cassini is checking out Saturn and its moons, nobody wants to explore Uranus, and a proposed Neptune mission seems in limbo and we finally get to see Pluto on 2015.

That's not bad, but dammit we need more! Hell, Jupiter and Saturn are like mini solar systems, we should put an orbiter and lander on each moon. Hell, make it two.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:15 AM on June 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


This is possible with existing technology.

I think the key point in the PDF if you linked to is near the end, on the "General Summary of High Temperature Technologies" slide. For refrigeration, the current state of the art is described as:
high temperature operation not demonstrated at the system level
So it's theoretically possible, they're working on it, and have tried parts of the overall system, but nobody's successfully done the whole cooling job yet. To me, in order to be considered a reasonable way of doing things, someone has to have done it at least once.

That presentation is a great way to understand the sheer difficulty of the temperature problem. There are a lot of unusual materials, specialized parts, and tricky design solutions mentioned in there. Which is part of what makes it so neat, and fun to discuss. If this was easy, it wouldn't be nearly as interesting.

And actually if it was a significantly more difficult problem, it would probably be written off as even a theoretical impossibility, and therefore not too interesting to discuss either. The same can be said of a lot of things to do with space and space exploration--even just the difficulty of getting into Earth orbit is right at the point where it's not easy but it can be done.
posted by FishBike at 8:47 AM on June 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Anyone remember that episode from The Six Million Dollar Man where the Soviets finally sent an armored, hardened surface probe to Venus... only it accidentally landed back on Earth and caused mayhem? Man, 70s science schlock just didn't get any better.
posted by crapmatic at 9:14 AM on June 6, 2010 [1 favorite]




That's not bad, but dammit we need more!

Hey, don't forget that the first probe ever to go out and land on an asteroid and bring back a sample is about to return its payload to Earth in about a week.
posted by Rhomboid at 9:34 AM on June 6, 2010


Hey, don't forget that the first probe ever to go out and land on an asteroid and bring back a sample is about to return its payload to Earth in about a week.
After arriving at Itokawa, Hayabusa studied the asteroid's shape, spin, topography, colour, composition, density, and history. In November 2005, it landed on the asteroid and attempted to collect samples but failed to do so. Nevertheless, there is a high probability that some dust swirled into the sampling chamber, so it was sealed, and the spacecraft is scheduled to return to Earth by June 2010.
The spacecraft also carried a detachable minilander, MINERVA, but this failed to reach the surface.
Oh well, guess we'll have to try again!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:38 AM on June 6, 2010


I would hate to be the guy that's got to open the chamber and painstakingly comb through each little microscopic bit of fluff under a microscope and determine if it's asteroid or belly lint.
posted by Rhomboid at 9:46 AM on June 6, 2010


There is a reason that those corrected images from mentallandscape are so good. They're the work of Don Mitchell, one of the key developers of the signal processing techniques used in computer graphics (and all-around ridiculously sharp guy). At some point he got interested in the Venera program and did a pile of research on it (the root of the Venus info at the site is actually here). For those images he worked to get as close to the original data as possible, even researching the equipment used to take them. He then re-derived the images using modern image processing techniques.
posted by madmethods at 10:12 AM on June 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


you'd need a colder environment to dump the heat into. Otherwise no heat engine will work.

What's the day/night differential? Store energy from repeated flexiing of bimetal.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:25 PM on June 6, 2010


Wow. Just wow.
posted by zombieApoc at 1:56 PM on June 6, 2010


What's the day/night differential? Store energy from repeated flexiing of bimetal.

So long as your lander can go 243 days between nightfalls. That, and it's not any cooler on the night side.
posted by Devils Rancher at 2:44 PM on June 6, 2010


nobody wants to explore Uranus

Well, hello mixed feelings.
posted by CynicalKnight at 7:46 PM on June 6, 2010


Fry: "Hey, as long as you don't make me smell Uranus." *laughs*
Leela: "I don't get it."
Professor: "I'm sorry, Fry, but astronomers renamed Uranus in 2620 to end that stupid joke once and for all."
Fry: "Oh. What's it called now?"
Professor: "Urectum. Here, let me locate it for you."
Fry: "Hehe, no, no, I think I'll just smell around a bit over here."
posted by Severian at 9:38 PM on June 6, 2010


(Audio too. God, I love that show.)
posted by yaymukund at 10:04 PM on June 6, 2010


How about that pronunciation that sounds like URINE-us? Can't win with that planet.
posted by telstar at 12:32 AM on June 7, 2010


previously
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:15 AM on June 7, 2010


Shhh! You can never have too much Venus in your life!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:46 AM on June 7, 2010






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