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I absolutely love this stuff. The photos to me are strangely eerie, and even perhaps a little sinister.

I have trouble comprehending the size of other planets, photos like these make me feel uneasy (in an exciting way) because they are strikingly similar to landscapes we might find here on earth - yet it's a completely different planet! I'm no longer looking at mars as a red circle as shown in textbooks, but now as vast unseen landscapes that have never been explored before - a new perspective and a new age of discovery and I can't wait to see what else happens in my life.

It's also a stunning achievement. As I lie in bed looking up into the darkness, a boundless expanse of tens of millions of miles of absolutely nothing lies between me, and a small man made robot with the martian wind gusting and whistling gently over it. A robot that is cautiously making small movements, buzzing and whirring going about it's business with no one there to hear the sounds or see the movements it's making. A machine who's intentions are totally pure - it's sole purpose is simply to learn. A small beacon in a far-reaching expanse of barrenness and nothingness.

One thing I found recently I'd never heard of before is 'Venera 13': http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venera_13

A Russian rover that landed on Venus in 1981 - designed to last the harsh environment of Venus for 32 minutes but actually lasted 127 minutes. An extraordinary engineering achievement to have a rover go from freezing space temperatures to temperatures of over 450c.

And it managed to transmit images of the surface: http://mo-www.harvard.edu/microobs/guestobserverportal/Galil...

Absolutely stunning, and in some ways even more eerie and provocative to me than the Mars pictures as the environment it briefly operated in is far more hostile and as time was so limited the images are even more precious.

That image of Venus is wonderful, thanks! I hadn't seen it before. I, too, think this is fascinating stuff. Another cool image comes from Titan, one of Saturn's moons, which we managed to land a probe on.[1]

[1] http://www.esa.int/esaMI/Cassini-Huygens/SEMC8Q71Y3E_0.html

There's also an awesome video of that descent: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t-BwcDNsbmw

Or: http://www.esa.int/esaMI/Cassini-Huygens/SEMKVQOFGLE_1.html (check the hires download!)

The Venera program is definitely one of the "unsung heroes" of planetary exploration.

Perhaps the best resource for surface images of Venus (along with fascinating image reconstruction) is Don P. Mitchell's page: http://mentallandscape.com/C_CatalogVenus.htm

Another fascinating tidbit: the Soviets also performed the first (and to date, only) deployment of a balloon probe on another planet: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aerobot#The_Venus_Vega_balloons

I was going to mention Don - he's a friend of a friend - and the book he's writing about the Russian Venus program. There's a lot of awesome stuff here that almost no-one knows about.

His series of pages on the Venera program[1] just blows all other resources away, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

He mentions on his copyright page[2] that he studied Russian books/papers, befriended & interviewed Russian scientists, dug up rare photographs, and even processed original spacecraft data with custom C++ code to create some of the images!

I look forward to his book; does he have an ETA on the publication date?

[1]: http://www.mentallandscape.com/V_Venus.htm [2]: http://www.mentallandscape.com/Copyright.htm

All his friends are pestering him about when he's releasing this book - he's under no pressure to publish and rather enjoys the process of digging up all this stuff and writing the code to process these images.

Wow, this is the first I've heard of the balloon mission. I wonder how long the balloons stayed afloat after the batteries ran down...

Well, I'm finding an operation time of ~46 hours, although the battery life was supposedly 60 hours. I did find this tidbit[1]:

"Shortly after passing into daylight, the Vega-2 aerostat plunged several kilometers, to a level of 0.9 atmospheres, dangerously close to the lower limit of its stable float zone. After the end of signal, the balloons probably overheated and burst, somewhere on the daylight side of Venus."

[1]: http://www.mentallandscape.com/V_Vega.htm

  > I have trouble comprehending the size of other planets
I'm not sure this will help, but the surface area of Mars is about 1/3 that of Earth. Given that roughly 2/3 of the Earth's surface is covered by water, one can think of the surface of Mars as being roughly equivalent in area to the entire land area of the Earth.

That's exactly how I felt at 7 in 1975 : http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/viking/viking-20060714.htm...

> I absolutely love this stuff. The photos to me are strangely eerie, and even perhaps a little sinister.

It's actually reassuring to me. It's rocks. We understand rocks. I'm surrounded by them. There may not be a blade of grass, a gasp of air or a friendly face to greet us but at least there are rocks.

Personally I think Venus is the more interesting planet to be exploring

I wonder if eating away at the current atmosphere of venus is more or less technically challenging then the task of creating an atmosphere from scratch on Mars. Since Venus also has way more mass, I'm guessing humans would feel more comfortable there then on Mars.

My thoughts exactly - Venus seems like a better place to start interplanetary exploration with - as I understand, if you could cool it down to an acceptable temperature, you could walk on the surface with just a breathing apparatus, right?

It has 92 times Earth's atmospheric pressure at the surface. This would be a bad idea. It would be like being 900 meters deep in the ocean on Earth. 150 meters is about the limit for humans before High Pressure Nervous Syndrome stops the fun.

But around 50km above the surface of Venus, the temperatures are nice, and the pressure is 1 earth atmosphere. You just have to to stay up there.

  > around 50km above the surface of Venus, the temperatures
  > are nice, and the pressure is 1 earth atmosphere. You just
  > have to to stay up there.
Lando Calrissian just called. He wants his Cloud City back. :)

Perfect. Given Venus's gravity is 0.904g, we could work something out in a few years.

  > as I understand, if you could cool it down to an
  > acceptable temperature, you could walk on the surface
  > with just a breathing apparatus, right?
Sadly, probably not. Cooling it down is already a very tall order, and even then, you would need to find a way to remove most of the atmosphere in order to reduce the pressure (~90 atm at the surface).

Mars is a much better bet for human habitation in the short term. Chemically, it has all the ingredients we need to support human life. And it is much easier to build structures that can withstand the thin atmosphere (0.6 kPa) and relatively tame temperature range (-87 C to 63 C, all figures according to Wikipedia) than to build something that can survive the 9 MPa and 450 C on the surface on Venus.

I always kind of thought that Venus would be a neat place to preform "grey goo" experiments. Lots of matter and energy, and really the only thing you are going to do is make it a nicer place. Worse case is that it remains Venus.

Yeah, I remember Venus was sometimes called as the "other blue planet" but it was an actual Hell of a place to live in. Looking like Earth but nothing close to it that would make it inhabitable.

> survive the 9 MPa and 450 C on the surface on Venus

not even mentioning the sulfur acid rains, lead sulfide snow and lack of magnetic field (cosmic rays penetrating atmosphere if it would be weakened)

Doesn't mars also lack a magnetic field?

  > Doesn't mars also lack a magnetic field?
Yes, that's correct. There is no global dipole magnetic field on Mars [1]. However there are weak fields "frozen" into some of the oldest rocks on Mars [2], which indicates that the planet did have a global magnetic field at some point in its early history. Scientists think that the lack of a global magnetic field was part of the reason that Mars lost its atmosphere. [3]

For humans to settle on Mars and stay for any length of time, we will need to find a way to shield ourselves from the ionizing radiation that reaches the surface. [4] On Earth, most of this radiation is either deflected by the global magnetic field, or absorbed by the atmosphere.

[1] http://www-ssc.igpp.ucla.edu/personnel/russell/papers/mars_m...

[2] http://cmex.ihmc.us/data/catalog/TectonismonMars/Paleomagnet...

[3] http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2001/as...

[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colonization_of_Mars#Radiation

Although what about from a human health perspective? Can humans survive in a gravity that weak for a long time? What about animals?

What's long? a year? twenty?

And to answer that question and others is why we(humans) have bothered with Space Lab, Mir, IST. You can Google answer.

No, I mean if humans were to colonize Mars -- would gravity make that process difficult?

Definitely, with little gravity it could even be impossible for women to bear and give birth to a child

I'm unfamiliar with how gravity factors into pregnancy and birthing. Do you have any further details on that?

... and an umbrella which is resistant to sulfuric acid, given that a cooler temperature will no longer evaporate the acid before it reaches the ground.

Building an atmosphere on Mars would surely be more of a challenge than on Venus, since Mars doesn't have a magnetosphere to keep solar winds from blowing the gases away.

Geoffrey Landis suggested that: Although the surface of Venus is an extremely hostile environment, at about 50 kilometers above the surface the atmosphere of Venus is the most earth like environment (other than Earth itself) in the solar system. It is proposed here that in the near term, human exploration of Venus could take place from aerostat vehicles in the atmosphere, and that in the long term, permanent settlements could be made in the form of cities designed to float at about fifty kilometer altitude in the atmosphere of Venus. Source: http://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/2003002...

I find Saturn's moon Titan most earth-like, in that it has liquids, forming rivers and lakes - "geological" features missing from most (all?) other local planets and moons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lakes_of_Titan; also http://www.world-science.net/othernews/120723_titan.htm; and geological analysis (video) http://www.space.com/16674-rivers-on-saturn-s-moon-titan-puz...

The Venus photos are simply awesome (the probe definitely deserves more recognition :-)), as are those from Mars. It's a shame we can't just hitch a ride to either of the planets to explore them and see them with our own eyes...

I can completely correlate to the uneasiness brought by truly realizing the scale of things.

If you do like video games, one that had such an intended effect on me was the first Mass Effect. There are a number of side missions where you descend onto planets in a multi-terrain vehicle and are supposed to check some things out (you can get out of the rover as well). Although for the most part the planets are barren (much like Mars), I found them incredibly effective at sending the scale message across. The most incredible one though, was a side mission on the Moon, with Earth right up above you. Though the scale wasn't 100% accurate, it still made for one of the most impressive moments in video games for me.

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