Despite decades spent exploring our solar system, there’s still a lot humanity hasn’t accomplished, and there’s still a lot we haven’t properly explored. One of the most important things that still needs to be explored are the other planets within our solar system. Sure, we have pictures of Mars, but what about pictures of the surface of Venus? How much did we discover that 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. Furthermore, these images were not taken by a NASA spacecraft, as NASA has not yet landed a spacecraft on the surface of the planet. Instead, the only images of the surface of Venus that we have to look at were taken by Soviet-era spacecraft over 40 years ago.
Venus is the second planet from the Sun, located between Earth and Mercury. It’s about 125 million miles from Earth, just 12 million miles from Mars, a planet we’ve explored greatly in the search for 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 was very difficult to get a spacecraft 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 that wasn’t until 1970, when the Soviets landed Venera 7 on the planet. In 1975, Venera 9’s camera landed, and it took some of the best pictures of the surface of Venus.
Venera 10, Venera 13, and Venera 14 will continue to take images of the surface throughout the early 1980s. But for every spacecraft that succeeded, another failed, and when the Soviet spacecraft Venera 3 crashed into Venus in 1965, it was the first to succeed after eight failed missions. It’s the surface that makes this planet so hostile—photos of Venus’ surface show a cracked, dusty landscape.
Severe heat and overwhelming 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 a low of 81 degrees Fahrenheit (-63 degrees Celsius).
Of course, this could all change in the next few years, when NASA begins its latest set of missions to Venus, starting with the DAVINCHI spacecraft, which will study the drop in the planet’s atmosphere. With other missions to follow, perhaps NASA will soon have some new images of the surface of Venus to show. For now, though, those just have to.
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