"Earth's mysterious twin." A "lost habitable" world. An "inferno like" planet. NASA has some great descriptions for Venus, a rocky planet that took a very different path than our own. Venus is the hottest planet in the solar system, and one that may have an intriguing gas called phosphine that hints at the potential for alien life.
In June 2021, NASA greenlighted two new Venus missions: Veritas and Davinci Plus, the agency's first dedicated missions to the second planet from the sun since the launch of the Magellan probe in 1989.
NASA created this computer-simulated global view of the northern hemisphere of Venus using data from multiple missions, including NASA's own Magellan and Pioneer missions. The colors come from images collected by the Soviet Venera 13 and 14 landers.
In 2012, NASA's sun-watching Solar Dynamics Observatory captured Venus transiting in front of the sun. This composite image shows the planet's path.
NASA's Mariner 10 spacecraft went off to check out Venus and Mercury in the 1970s. NASA described this view from 1974 as "serene," but added "the clouded globe of Venus is a world of intense heat, crushing atmospheric pressure and clouds of corrosive acid."
Venus is home to constant hurricane-force winds, which whip the clouds into the streaky formations you see here. The image is a false-color composite, so it's not what you'd see with the naked eye.
The tiny bright dot near the bottom of this image is Venus as seen from the International Space Station by NASA astronaut Christina Koch. The blue curve is Earth's atmosphere. Venus is our cosmic neighbor. It's the second planet from the sun with only Mercury being closer.
The surface of Venus is scorching hot, but the Soviet Union still managed to deliver multiple landers to the planet to collect images and data.
The Soviet Venera 13 probe landed on the surface of Venus in 1982 and snapped this view of its surroundings. The lander survived for 127 minutes, which probably felt like a lifetime in the face-melting heat.
The first images from the surface of Venus came courtesy of the Soviet Venera 9 mission. " These were, in fact, the very first photos received of the surface of another planet," said NASA. Venera 9 landed in 1975.
The top photo comes from Venera 9 and the bottom photo from its sister explorer, Venera 10, which landed just a few days later. It found a smoother landing site than 9 and transmitted data for 65 minutes.
Japan's space agency, JAXA, currently has a mission in operation at Venus. The Venus Climate Orbiter Akatsuki is studying the funky planet's atmosphere. It launched in 2010 and entered orbit in 2015. This is a processed and enhanced view of the planet as seen by Akatsuki.
The Dickinson impact crater on Venus is 43 miles (69 kilometers) in diameter. This image comes from a radar instrument on NASA's Magellan spacecraft. Magellan launched in 1989 and was commanded to burn up in Venus' atmosphere in 1994 at the end of its mission.
Venus looks like a white globe in this 2020 view snapped by the BepiColombo spacecraft, a joint mission by the European Space Agency and Japan's space agency, JAXA. BepiColombo passed near Venus on its way to its destination at Mercury. It took the opportunity to grab a quick portrait of Earth's wayward "twin."
An ultraviolet filter helps this 1974 NASA Mariner 10 snapshot of Venus pop. It highlights the planet's cloud formations. It might look a bit like Earth, but that's just the image processing talking. Don't be fooled. Venus is hellish.
The Soviet Venera 14 mission was the twin to Venera 13. The Venera 14 lander touched down on the surface of Venus in 1982 and transmitted data for 57 minutes. It snapped photos and examined a soil sample during its short time of functioning in the tough conditions, which included temperatures reaching 878 degrees Fahrenheit (470 degrees Celsius).
NASA's Parker Solar Probe is all about studying the sun, but it took a look at Venus during a flyby in mid-2020. The probe used its Wide-field Imager for Parker Solar Probe (WISPR) instrument to peer through the planet's clouds. Here, the view is rotated to make the wide side horizontal.
Even the Hubble Space Telescope has gotten in on the Venus viewing action. This 1995 ultraviolet-light image has been processed to highlight the planet's sulfuric acid clouds.
NASA's Pioneer Venus Oribiter captured another ultraviolet view of the planet's clouds in early 1979.
A floating city above the clouds of Venus sounds like a concept from a sci-fi novel, but it was an idea NASA put forth in 2014. It hasn't moved out of the conceptual stage, but it would conceivably allow astronauts to safely study Venus from above its hellish sulfuric acid clouds. A rendering shows what the Cloud City might look like.
"Proposed for a 2026 launch, Veritas would orbit the planet and peer through the obscuring clouds with a powerful state-of-the art radar system to create 3D global maps and a near-infrared spectrometer to figure out what the surface is made of," said NASA.
This concept illustration shows Veritas studying Venus.
Along with Veritas, NASA is also committing to send Davinci Plus (deep atmosphere Venus investigation of noble gases, chemistry, and imaging) to Venus. This mission will seek to understand how the sister planets of Earth and Venus developed so differently and if the inferno planet was once habitable.
This illustration shows the Davinci Plus probe descending toward the surface of Venus.
NASA's Magellan mission took this radar image of the Wheatley crater on Venus. It reaches about 45 miles (72 kilometers) in diameter.
Though many missions have investigated Venus over the years, there's a lot we don't know about our mysterious neighbor. NASA's new Veritas and Davinci Plus missions could let us in on its secrets.