The surface of Venus

I love rediscovering cool things. I'm sure I learned, at some point, that the Soviet Union had once sent probes to land on the surface of Venus. But I had completely forgotten this fact until today.

This photo comes from Venera 9, which landed on Venus on October 22, 1975. The lander remained operational for 53 minutes, which isn't bad considering we're talking about a planet with hydrochloric acid and hydrofluoric acid in the atmosphere, and a surface temperature (as measured by Venera 9) of 905° F.

The photo — at three different phases of processing — comes from the website of Don Mitchell, an enthusiast of Soviet space history. Mitchell did the processing that resulted in the clear, bottom image in this stack.

The upper image is the raw 6-bit data. The center images include the telemetry brust replacements, with remaining bursts blacked out. The 6-bit values have been transformed to linear brightness, using the published photometric function of the camera, and then converted to sRGB standard form (gamma 2.2). In the final version, I filled in missing regions, using Bertalmio's inpainting algorithm.

Read more about these photos at Don Mitchell's website
Read more about the Venera landers and how they survived on Venus

Thanks to OMG Facts for reminding me of this cool bit of history



  1. Wow. I had forgotten this too. And I can’t help but feel that one reason is Cold War propaganda. This was an amazing achievement. Makes you wonder how far we could have gone if the Soviet and U.S. space programs had worked together from the outset, instead of competing. Then again, maybe it was that competition that was the key element in both programs’ successes.

    1. It’s not just Venera that’s forgotten. Few people in the West are aware of the two Lunakhod remote-controlled rovers that the Soviets landed on the Moon in the early 1970s and that operated for several months (Lunakhod 2 for a few months; Lunakhod 1 for almost a year).

  2. I love these photos.  I recall looking at them in awe the first time I saw them.  I thought “wow, finally a peek beneath Venus’s cloud-layer, awesome”.

    -abs can’t alas recall that ep where Steve fought a Venus lander, but it sounds great in a cheesey-70’s sort of way

    1. I wish they’d send another probe to take pics of the surface.  Seems like a worthy challenge.

  3. Huh, I guess all my grade-school reading on the subject had me convinced that _no_ landers had survived long enough to do anything of import.  Awesome!

  4. RUSSIAN SPACE HISTORY FUN FACT – Venera 3 and 4 were the first partially edible space probes. Since what was known about Venus in the early 1960s allowed for the possiblity of a global CO2-saturated water ocean, they were designed to float in water and had a “sugar lock” that would dissolve in water and release a spring-loaded antenna.

  5. Nothing makes you feel old like people discovering a past event that you thought was common knowledge because you lived through it.

    Honestly, though, no-one remembers ever seeing these pictures before?

  6. It’s worth mentioning that, of the four probes which descended into the Venusian atmosphere, all four reported that Venus’ temperature was originating from its surface — not its atmosphere.  Theorists who were tasked with making sense of that decided to “normalize” that data.  In other words, they *assumed* that the planet is in thermal equilibrium.  For more information, Youtube “charles ginenthal venus”.

    It’s also worth mentioning that many cultures of the world tell mythological stories about Venus arriving in human historical times as a comet.  These stories generally agree that the cometary display was initially beautiful, but eventually became monstrous.

    1. That’s an interesting theory, but Venus’s orbit seems way too regular for something that was captured so recently.  I’m also not sure why the surface would be especially warm if it were previously traveling through interstellar space?

      As for why the surface might be hotter than the atmosphere, maybe they were landing at night to give the probes a few extra minutes of operation before they overheated?

      I don’t have time to watch a 5 part youtube video right now, but I’m keeping this in my crazy theories drawer for now. 

      1. Also keep in mind that Carl Sagan was predicting, based upon his Super Greenhouse Theory, that Venus would be a desert beneath the clouds.  Immanuel Velikovsky offered a very different theory which demanded, by contrast, that Venus be populated with volcanoes.  What is fascinating is that Velikovsky won this aspect of the larger debate over catastrophism, and yet, that never seemed to factor into the belief in a runaway greenhouse situation on either Venus or Earth.

        Very few scientists — bordering close to zero — are actually tuned into the details of mythological stories.  That, in itself, is rather enigmatic, considering that we are talking about 5,000 years of oral tradition here.  These are arguably the stories through which mankind developed consciousness.  What is most perplexing is the degree to which the stories corroborate one another, from cultures across the entire planet.  One possible, largely unexplored, idea is that they are based upon events which occurred in the sky.Yet another important detail is that simulations of the collapse of protoplanetary discs into planets have never actually worked.Another interesting fact: The Baltis Vallis “rille” (which is basically a canyon) on Venus rises and falls DOZENS of times, with some TWO KILOMETERS separating its high and low points along its 6,800 kilometer length.  It’s as if the rille was created by something which ignored gravity.  When considered alongside the fact that the Grand Canyon’s Colorado River punches straight through the Kaibab Upwarp plateau (instead of going around it), there is reason to believe that all is not as it seems in the planetary sciences — or science in general.Taken individually, each fact can be easily dismissed as meaningful.  The interesting things happen once these (and many other) facts are combined into a single story.People might want to keep an open mind on Venus’ story long enough to learn about the stranger facts associated with it.  David Talbott and Wal Thornhill offer a fascinating modern-day rebuttal to conventional theory on Venus, which points to these enigmas (, but few seem interested in questioning the textbooks on these points.  For those of us who have invested time into it, it’s become apparent that the critics have not tried very hard to understand what is being argued here.

        1. You have a lot of [citation needed]s sprinkled through your post there, but hey, let’s take this one:

          Another interesting fact: The Baltis Vallis “rille” (which is basically a canyon) on Venus rises and falls DOZENS of times, with some TWO KILOMETERS separating its high and low points along its 6,800 kilometer length. It’s as if the rille was created by something which ignored gravity.

          Tectonic forces warp, fold, pile, and stack continental plates onto themselves in a fabulous display that one might think “ignored gravity”.

          I also have to point out that a planetary isolate traveling through interplanetary space will by definition be under the influence of gravity. It’s made out of matter. It has it’s own gravitational field, and that will function just fine and dandy in interstellar space as it does in orbit.

          Venus’ orbit is also incredibly regular – unlike, say, Pluto… :)

      2. It’s Immanuel Velikovsky‘s idiosyncratic theory, in which Venus was ejected from Jupiter, looped around the Earth a couple of times (causing the sun to stand still in the sky in Biblical times in the Near East but apparently nowhere else on Earth), then the underpants gnomes caused it to settle into its present orbit. (All right, it was enormous electrostatic forces, according to Velikovsky, because planets are totally like electrons orbiting a nucleus (I know; it’s not my theory, alright?).)

        It’s crazy town, don’t think about it too much. Look up Carl Sagan’s essay on Velikosky instead.

    2. As a former anthropology student (whose advising professor had a sub-specialty in the anthropology of pseudo-science) and a former student at a fundamentalist Baptist high school, I have learned to be very, very skeptical anytime anyone claims to have found the same story in many cultures all over the world. 

  7. Yeah Venera was conveniently forgotten by the US public in the Curiosity craze. Everyone was too busy waving flags to remember   that a similar feat was accomplished more than 30 years ago by those dirty communists.

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