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Magellan the Unveiling of Venus

Magellan the Unveiling of Venus

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Published by Bob Andrepont
NASA booklet on the Magellan mission to Venus.
NASA booklet on the Magellan mission to Venus.

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Published by: Bob Andrepont on Dec 29, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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11/25/2012

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ORIGINAL
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falltheplanetsinthesolar system,Venusisthemost likeourownEarthinsize,mass,and distancefromtheSun.Themotions ofourplanetary"tlvin"wereknown totheancients,anditsapparent
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changesinshape,similartothe phasesoftheMoon,werefirst studiedbyGalileomorethanfour centuriesago.Inthemodernera, Venushasbeenoneofthemost visitedplanetsinthesolarsystem- 20spacecraftfromtheSovietUnion andtheUnitedStateshavebeensent theresincetheearly1960s.Venus' sulfur-yellowcloudshavebeen probed,itsatmosphericstructureand compositionhavebeenmeasured, andautomaticlandershave photographedportionsofits landscapeandchemicallyanalyzed itsrocks.
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Yet,forallourfascinationwith Venus,wehaveonlyasketchy,
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generalknowledgeoftheplanet's surface.Whilethefacesoftheother "terrestrial"planets-Earth,Mars,andthelightedsidesofMercuryand theMoon-havelongsincebeen mapped,detailsofVenus'faceare stilllargelyunknown,duetothe planet'sdense,constantcloudcover.
j
Thecloudspreventusfrom photographingthesolidsurfacefrom
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spacewithconventionalcameras. Sincetheearly1960s,scientistshaveusedradartocounterthisproblem. Unlike visiblelight,radarwaves penetratetheVenusiancloudsand reflectoffthesolidplanetbackto Earth.Withthehelpofcomputer processing,theseradarreflections canbeturnedintopicturesofthe Venusiansurface.Earth-basedradar
L
imagingisthusextremelyvaluable, butitalsoislimited-Venusalways showsthesamehemispheretous whenitisnearenoughinitsorbitfor high-resolutionstudy,soonlya fractionoftheplanetcanbeexplored fromEarth.Therefore,inthelate1970sandearly 1980s,theUnitedStatesandthe SovietUnionsentthePioneerVenus andVeneraspacecraft,respectively, tostudyVenusmorecloselyandto imageitssurfacewithradar.These missionshaveansweredmanyofour questionsaboutVenus'atmosphere andlarge-scalesurfacefeatures. However,manymorequestions remainunansweredabouttheextent towhichVenus'surfacehasbeen shapedbyvolcanoes,platetectonics, impactcraters,andwaterandwind erosion.Tohelpanswertheseremaining questions,NASAplanstolauncha newradarimagingspacecraft, Magellan(namedforthe16thcentury explorerFerdinandMagellan),from thespaceshuttleAtlantisinApril 1989.ArrivingatVenusinAugust 1990,Magellanwillspendeight monthsmappingmostoftheplanet ataresolution(ameasureofthe smallestobjectsthatcanbeseenin itsmap)nearlytentimesbetterthan thatofanypreviousspacecraftviews ofthesurface.Morethananyother singlemission,Magellanisexpected tounveilthesecretsoftheVenusian past,justasMariner9revealedthe unsuspectedrichnessofMartian geologyin1972.In1990,forthe firsttime,wewillreallycometoknow thefaceofourplanetary"twin.
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