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Morning Trio

October 22, 2015

A beautiful trio adorns the early morning sky right now — the planets Venus, Jupiter, and Mars. Venus is the brilliant “morning star.” For the next couple of days, it stands at the top of the lineup, in the east at first light. Jupiter is close to the lower left of Venus, with fainter Mars about the same distance to the lower left of Jupiter.

One reason Venus looks so bright is that it’s completely surrounded by clouds, which hide the surface from view. In fact, we didn’t get our first look at the surface until a Soviet probe landed on Venus 40 years ago today.

Venera 9 consisted of an orbiter — the first craft ever to orbit Venus — and a lander.

The lander parachuted through Venus’s clouds, transmitting readings on their temperature, composition, and density. After touchdown, the probe worked for another 53 minutes. It measured the surface temperature at about 860 degrees Fahrenheit, and surface pressure at 90 times the pressure at Earth’s surface.

Most impressive, Venera 9 snapped not only the first pictures of the surface of Venus, but the first pictures from the surface of any planet other than Earth. The images revealed a landscape strewn with sharp-edged volcanic rocks. And they showed that even through the clouds, there was enough sunlight to cast shadows.

A twin mission arrived at Venus three days after Venera 9. It succeeded as well, showing a flat landscape with clear skies — a rare glimpse at a hidden planet.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2015

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