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The First and Only Photos From Venus - What Did We See? (4K) (V101 Science)
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Only four spacecraft have ever returned photographs from the surface of  Venus. Our neighbouring planet doesn’t make it easy, below the clouds blistering heat and crushing pressures quickly destroy most landers. But, in 1975 and 1982, 4 of the Soviet Union’s Venera probes captured our only photos of Venus’ surface. The Venera landers scanned the surface back and forth to create panoramic images of their surroundings. They revealed yellow skies and cracked, desolate landscapes that were both alien and familiar, views of a world that may have once been like Earth before experiencing catastrophic climate change. Here are the only photos we have of the surface of Venus.

On March 5, 1982, the Soviet Union’s Venera-14 lander successfully touched down on the surface of our hellish neighbour, Venus. In total, it worked for just 57 minutes before succumbing to the harsh environment. But in that short time, it did manage to capture a colour panoramic photo of its scorched surroundings.  

More than four decades later and this photo is still one of the best we have from the surface of Venus. Venera was a series of space probes launched by the Soviet Union in the 1960s, 70s and 80s on a mission to study the planet's bizarre environment. But It was also a program aimed at returning the first-ever close-up photos from the surface of another planet.  

Over the course of the program, 13 probes successfully reached Venus and transmitted data about our neighbour, eight landed successfully on the surface, and four managed to capture incredible photographs.  The reason it is so difficult to land on Venus is that below that thick toxic cloud cover that is perpetually shrouding the planet, the surface experiences extreme temperatures and pressures.

In fact, Venus is the hottest planet in the solar system, even though Mercury is closer to the Sun.  Here the temperature reaches about 475 degrees Celsius, which is about 900 degrees Fahrenheit.  To put that into some kind of perspective, that's more than seven times hotter than the highest ever recorded air temperature on Earth. Hot enough to melt lead.  

But that's just the temperature. At the surface of Venus, all that thick cloud creates a crushing air pressure more than 90 times that of Earths. Here the atmosphere would be similar to the pressures found more than 914 metres or 3000 feet below the ocean. Along with the extreme heat, this environment would easily destroy most spacecraft attempting to explore Venus’s horrifying landscape.  

However, the Venera landers were designed to withstand these intense conditions for just about long enough to collect data and send us the first-ever glimpse of the Venusian surface. But how exactly do you take a photograph in such a hellish environment?

What was clear, based on previous data, is that if the camera were placed outside of the protective shell, then the enormous pressure and temperature would destroy it. Therefore, engineers placed a telephotometer inside the lander. Through a special porthole, light from the surface bounced through a periscope, which then directed it to the camera that was protected inside.  

Venera 9, which launched on June 8, 1975, was the first mission to attempt to take photos of the Venusian surface using this technology. Though the probe successfully landed. Unfortunately, only one of the lens caps on the two cameras separated. What was planned as a 360-degree panoramic photo around the lander became a 180-degree photograph. But we did get our first look at this scorched landscape. 

The white object at the bottom of the photo is part of the lander, and the distortion is caused by the old Venera imaging system.  Angular and partly weathered rocks can be seen dominating the landscape, many partly buried in soil. And the mysterious horizon is visible in the upper left and right corners.  

Following Venera 9's footsteps, Venera 10 reached the surface on October 25, 1975. Again, unfortunately, only one of the lens caps separated properly, returning a 180-degree panoramic photo before going silent after about 65 minutes or so.  The lighting was similar to that on Earth on an overcast summer day during the photograph, according to scientists. The objects at the bottom are parts of the spacecraft, and the ground seems to be covered in flat slabs of rock, similar to volcanic areas found here on Earth.  

In December 1978, Venera 11 and Venera 12 landed on Venus, collecting even more data for over an hour but also attempting to capture the first-ever colour images. Unfortunately, in both cases, the lens cap issue struck again.  On these two missions, both lens caps on the cameras failed to separate, so while the landers returned valuable data, neither was able to take any photographs. 

After this disappointing lens cap malfunction, engineers made a series of changes to the design of Venera-13 and Venera-14, which as it stands, are the only probes that have ever transmitted colour photos of the shrouded Venusian landscape.  

Venera 13 landed on Venus on March 1, 1982.  Once on the surface, the lens caps successfully ejected, and the cameras began taking a panoramic photo around the lander. The probe survived for 127 minutes before going silent, which was enough time to capture in colour, what appears to be a bizarre landscape dominated by flat, dark, layered rocks, and fine grain-like soil material filling the gaps. The lens cap can be seen sitting in front of the lander, and distant rolling ridges are visible in the corner of the photos.  

Just four days later, on March 5, 1982, Venera 14 successfully landed in a different region of Venus, and like its twin, the lens caps also successfully ejected, allowing us to see even more of this hellish terrain. This time, however, the ground seems far more fractured, with very little of the grain-like soil material seen in 13s images. Once again, you can see the ejected lens cap and, in the distance, the hazy horizon.  

Each of these incredible photos gave us a tiny glimpse into a world covered in cloud so thick that its surface was a mystery up until the first lander arrived. They revealed to us a yellow sky above a cracked, desolate landscape that is both alien and familiar.  They found that Venus is so harsh that no Earth creature could ever survive there. Yet this world may have once been Earth-like before it experienced catastrophic climate change.  

Future missions It has been decades since we got a fresh look at what's below the clouds of our scorched neighbour, but that might be about to change.  Because this scalding hot vision of hell is about to get a few more visitors. One of the most exciting is NASA's Davinci+ mission, which will study the origin, evolution and present state of Venus from near the top of clouds all the way to the ground. 

The mission has a planned launch date sometime in 2029, so we will have to wait a bit longer yet. But during a flyby, the Davinci spacecraft will release a descent probe that will be carrying a camera, allowing us to see Venus like never before.  

On its hour-long descent, the probe will take thousands of measurements and capture up-close images of the surface as soon as it emerges from below the thick clouds.

The probe is not required to survive the landing, however, but if it does, it could provide up to an additional 17 minutes of invaluable science.

Unfortunately, the Davinci+ descent probe does not have a panoramic camera, meaning that the old photos from the Venera landers may still be the best close-ups we have of our hellish neighbour for many years yet.  A testament to the brilliant engineering that went into these ground-breaking probes all those years ago.  

I hope you enjoyed this video. If you did, tap the like button, subscribe, and turn on your notification bell so that you never miss an upload. If you want to find out more about future missions to Venus, then check out this video where I take a closer look at the Davinci+ mission, plus other exciting up-and-coming missions to Venus. Thank you all so much for watching, and I'll see you next time.

LANDER= A space vehicle designed to land (touch the ground) on a planet.

HELLISH= Terrible, similar to hell.

SUCCUMBING= To be defeated by a strong superior force.

HARSH= Unpleasant, cruel, disagreeable.

IT DID MANAGE= The auxiliary verb DID here is simply emphasizing the following verb MANAGE.

SCORCHED= Suffering the consequences of a very very hot temperature.

SURFACE= /sɜ:fɪs/ The outer boundary of an object; in this case, the ground level of the planet.

LAUNCH= To throw or propel a rocket up into the air (so it can travel into outer space).

BIZARRE= /bɪzɑ:*/ Strange.

OVER THE COURSE OF= During; While.

PROBE= A little spaceship designed to explore a planet.

THICK= Dense.

SHROUDING= Covering, protecting, hiding something.

MELT= To heat a solid substance, like metal, until it becomes a liquid.

LEAD= /led/ a gray metal which is very heavy and easier to melt than other metals.

TEMPERATURE= /temprɪtʃə*/

BELOW= Under.

SPACECRAFT= Spaceship. A vehicle design to travel into space and visit other planets, etc.


WITHSTAND= Resist, suffer.

GLIMPSE= Quick short vision.

SHELL= Hard protective cover.

TELEPHOTOMETER= A photometer is an instrument used in photometry, usually one that compares the illumination produced by a particular light source with that produced by a standard source. The prefix TELE- means "distant", because this photometer has a long tube (like a telescope or periscope) to get the light from the outside of the spaceship.

PORTHOLE= A small aperture in the side of a vessel to admit light and air, usually fitted with a watertight glass or metal cover, or both.


CAP= Protective cover.

WEATHERED= Damaged, eroded by the weather (temperature, rain, wind...).

DOMINATING THE LANDSCAPE= If something dominates the landscape, it is the thing most seen when you look around, because it is very big or because there are many of it all over the place.

BURIED IN SOIL= Under the ground.

FOLLOWING X'S FOOTSTEPS= After X; following X.

OVERCAST= (of the sky) Covered with clouds.

SLAB= Flat sheets of rock.

OVER AN HOUR= More than an hour.

ISSURE= Problem.

STRUCK AGAIN= When a problem strikes again, it happens again.

AS IT STANDS= At this moment.

ROLLING= To extend in gentle rises and falls, like hills, waves or dunes.

RIDGE= A long, narrow, elevated section of the earth's surface, such as a chain of hills or mountains.

TWIN= One of two brothers who were born at the same time. By comparison, one of two companion similar things (in this case, spacecrafts).


HAZY= Covered, or looking like covered with mist or light fog or smoke.

EARTH-LIKE= Similar to planet Earth.

SCALDING HOT= Very, very hot.

FLYBY= A fly passing close to a place (to Venus in this case).

LIKE NEVER BEFORE= Better than ever, best ever.

IS NOT REQUIRED TO= Doesn't need to.

GROUND-BREAKING= Innovative, which were the first to do something new and spectacular.


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