A composite radar image shows Venus, sans clouds. Photo by NRAO/AUI/NSF/Arecibo
WASHINGTON, March 10 (UPI) -- New imagery from earthbound optical telescopes have allowed astronomers to study Venus' strange surface in exceptional detail.
Venus is sometimes called Earth's "sister planet," because of the two planets' similar size, mass, composition and distance from the sun. But their makeup is quite different.
The small, hot planet -- the second planet from the sun -- has the densest atmosphere of the solar system's four terrestrial planets, made up of 96 percent carbon dioxide. Additionally, the planet is encapsulated in shiny clouds of sulfuric acid.
Whereas the Earth's surface is regularly visible from space, Venus is forever surrounded by a reflective shield, making traditional imagery of its surface impossible.
But scientists recently combined the radar-based capabilities of two observatories to construct remarkably detailed images of Venus' surface. The transmission abilities of the National Science Foundation's Arecibo Observatory were used to send out radio waves. Once bounced off Venus's surface, the waves were picked up using the reception abilities of NSF's Green Bank Telescope.
The high-definition images were sharp enough to reveal geologic structures like mountains, craters, and volcanoes.
"It is painstaking to compare radar images to search for evidence of change, but the work is ongoing," Bruce Campbell, an astronomer at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, explained in a press release. "In the meantime, combining images from this and an earlier observing period is yielding a wealth of insight about other processes that alter the surface of Venus."
The new radar technique has allowed astronomers to monitor changes in Venus's surface, and will enable further investigation of Earth's sister's geologic systems.
The process of collecting detailed surface imagery of Venus was detailed in a paper accepted for publication in the journal Icarus.