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New Images Unveil Mysterious Surface of Venus

Mar 11, 2015 12:01 PM EDT
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Pictured: A projection of the radar data of Venus collected in 2012, showing features like mountains and ridges. The black diagonal band at the center represents areas too close to the Doppler 'equator' to obtain well-resolved image data.
(Photo : B. Campbell et al., NRAO/AUI/NSF, Arecibo)

Unprecedented new images taken by scientists have unveiled the mysterious surface of Venus, all without ever having to leave Earth, and may help to shed light on how our neighboring planet has changed over the years.

By bouncing radar waves transmitted from the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico off Venus and receiving their echoes at the 100-meter Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia, a process called bistatic radar, researchers were able to see past Venus' thick clouds.

This isn't the first time scientists have attempted to catch a more detailed glimpse of Venus' surface, which is made up of remarkable features such as mountains, craters, and volcanoes. And despite the planet's thick clouds - made mostly of carbon dioxide - they are easily penetrated by radar, which was used by NASA's Magellan spacecraft in the early 1990s. Missions from Pioneer and Soviet Venera spacecraft during the 1980s were also used, according to Discovery News.

While these previous missions did indeed provide insight into Venus' rugged terrain, they only mapped the surface as it appeared at one time. But this time around, using powerful ground-based radar observatories, researchers successfully mapped Venus' surface from right here no Earth. They hope to compare these new images with ones previously taken at different periods of time to monitor our neighbor for any geological changes.

"It is painstaking to compare radar images to search for evidence of change, but the work is ongoing," Bruce Campbell, Senior Scientist with the Center for Earth and Planetary Studies at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C, said in a news release. "In the meantime, combining images from this and an earlier observing period is yielding a wealth of insight about other processes that alter the surface of Venus."

Scientists hope to eventually detect signs of active volcanism, for example, or any other geologic processes that could reveal clues to Venus's geologic history and subsurface conditions.

The results were published in the journal Icarus.

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