Despite decades spent exploring our solar system, there is still much that humans have yet to achieve, and much that we have yet to explore properly. One of the most important things that still needs to be explored is the other planets in our solar system. Sure, we have pictures of Mars, but what about surface pictures of Venus? How many times we find the planet? The answer: not much.
While you can find dozens, if not hundreds of images of the surface of Mars, Earth’s other neighbor, Venus, is limited to a series of images taken in the early 1980s. In addition, the images were not taken by NASA’s spacecraft, as NASA has yet to land a spacecraft on the planet’s surface. By contrast, the only images of Venus’ surface that we have to see were taken by a Soviet-era spacecraft more than 40 years ago.
Venus is the second planet from the Sun, located between Earth and Mercury. It is about 125 million miles from Earth, just 12 million miles from Mars, the planet we have been exploring extensively in search of life beyond our own. As Earth’s twin, learning more about Venus has been a requirement for astronomers for decades—so why are the only images of Venus’ surface so old?
Because it’s very difficult to get a spaceship there. Venus is so hostile that to date, NASA has completed only one flyby of Venus with a single spacecraft, Mariner 2, in 1962. The spacecraft completed a 42-minute survey of Earth’s twin, but it was not until 1970, when the Soviets landed Venera 7 on the planet. In 1975, the Venera 9 camera landed, and took some of the best pictures of the Venusian surface.
Venera 10, Venera 13, and Venera 14 would continue to photograph the surface throughout the early 1980s. But for every spacecraft that succeeded, another failed, and when the Soviet Venera 3 spacecraft crashed into Venus in 1965, it was the first to succeed after eight failed missions. It’s its surface that makes the planet so hostile—photographs of Venus’ surface show a fractured, dusty landscape.
Severe heat and tremendous atmospheric pressure dominate this landscape. On Venus, temperatures range from 820 to 900 degrees Fahrenheit (437 to 482 degrees Celsius), making it much more difficult to explore than the cooler surface of Mars, which averages as low as 81 degrees Fahrenheit (-63 degrees Celsius).
Of course, this could all change in the next few years, when NASA begins its latest series of missions to Venus, starting with the DAVINCHI spacecraft, which will study the descent of the planet’s atmosphere. With other missions to follow, it’s possible NASA will soon have some new images of the surface of Venus to show. But for now, it’s just necessary.