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Seeing Through the Clouds

Thick clouds cover Venus, hiding its surface from view. Since the 1960s, astronomers have used radio waves, transmitted from antennas on Earth or on satellites orbiting Venus, to penetrate the clouds and map the planet. The resulting images reveal surface roughness, density, and slope, but not color.

Unless otherwise noted, all of the images of Venus in this exhibit were collected by the Magellan spacecraft. Magellan used radar to produce the first high-resolution global map of Venus. Brighter areas are rougher or face toward the radar; darker areas are smooth or face away from the radar. Areas of high elevation, such as mountain ranges or volcanoes, also appear very bright. Black stripes are areas of missing data.

All Magellan images courtesy of NASA


Magellan's large main antenna bounced radar signals off the surface of Venus and transmitted the resulting data back to Earth. A computer processed the data to form the images displayed below. The smaller "horn" antenna is a radar altimeter, which measured the heights of surface features. The solar panels provided electric power. Magellan orbited Venus from 1990 until 1995, when it burned up in the planet's atmosphere.

magellan launch
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Magellan spacecraft deployed from the Space Shuttle Atlantis
NASA Image STS030-72-046

Earth-based Observations || Seeing Through The Clouds || Volcanism || Craters
Other Surface Features || A Global View || Missions To Venus || Mysteries Remain
Venus Facts || Imagery Index

Venus Home

1998 National Air and Space Museum