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Return to Venus

Return to Venus

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Japan’s Akatsuki orbiter is making a second attempt to enter orbit around Venus today, Dec. 7. A malfunction in 2010 caused the spacecraft to miss its first orbit opportunity. The mission team came up with a plan to try again this week. In honor of Akatsuki, here are a few things you need to know about Venus, physics and other missions to explore our solar system’s second planet:

1. Venus Climate Orbiter

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The down-to-business names for Akatsuki – which means “Dawn” or “Daybreak” in Japanese – are Venus Climate Orbiter and Planet-C. Akatsuki is Japan’s third deep space mission. At Venus, the orbiter will study Venusian meteorology. JAXA defines the mission’s goals as:

  • Observing Venus as a whole to understand its perpetual cloud layer, deep atmosphere and surface
  • Close observations of cloud structures and convection
  • Searching for signs of lightning and air glow

2. Exploring Venus

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Venus played a key role in early deep space exploration. Our Mariner 2 was the first successful interplanetary mission in 1962. And several Soviet spacecraft have made the tough descent and landing on Venus’ hellish surface. HERE is a list of other missions to Venus.

3. All About Venus

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Similar in structure and size to Earth, Venus’ thick, toxic atmosphere traps heat in a runaway greenhouse effect. A permanent layer of clouds traps heat, creating surface temperatures hot enough to melt lead. Glimpses below the clouds reveal volcanoes and deformed mountains. Venus spins slowly in the opposite direction of most planets.

4. Sizing Up the Solar System

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Venus also played a key role in determining the distance between Earth and the sun – creating the Astronomical Unit, the basic measurement we use to define our place in the cosmos. Many 18th century explorers, including the legendary James Cook, undertook perilous journeys to define the astronomical unit by watching Venus cross the face of the sun.

5. It’s Just a Phase

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Like the moon, Venus has phases. It can be full when Venus is on the far side of the sun, new when Venus is between the sun and Earth and a crescent at other points in between. Take a look at Galileo Galilei’s sketches of the phases of Venus HERE.

Follow Along:

As mentioned, Japan’s Akatsuki orbiter is making a second attempt to enter orbit around Venus today, Dec. 7. Follow along HERE for updates on this attempt. 

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