Japan's Akatsuki spacecraft, currently in orbit around Venus, has been busy snapping images – and they've now been reprocessed to give us a whole new look at this enigmatic planet.
Processed by photographer Damia Bouic, the incredible images reveal swirling clouds and complex dynamics on Venus. The spacecraft has five cameras on board, taking images in ultraviolet, visible, and infrared light.
The images are “false color”, which means that certain features are highlighted by different colors to bring them out a bit more. But they’re still very much real.
“As we can see, Venus is a planet with complex meteorology,” Bouic wrote in a post for The Planetary Society.
Some of the images show the “nightside glow” of the planet as seen in infrared, while others simply show the fascinating swirls and undulations of clouds on the planet. We can also see that the polar regions appear smoother than the turbulent tropical regions. You can see raw images from the spacecraft here.
The Akatsuki spacecraft was launched on May 20, 2010, but it failed to enter the orbit of Venus in December of the same year when it didn’t fire its engines for long enough. Amazingly, however, engineers were able to redirect the probe and, after a long five-year journey around the Sun, they tried again to enter it into Venus orbit – and succeeded – in December 2015.
Since then, it has already started making numerous discoveries. It’s found a huge moving cloud formation shaped like a bow that appears to be standing still and chaotic winds on the night side of the planet. It’s also been looking for active volcanoes and lightning.
Venus remains one of the criminally little-explored regions of the Solar System in recent history. It was the target of multiple Russian probes in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, but since then has been limited to just three dedicated missions – NASA’s Magellan in 1990, ESA’s Venus Express in 2006, and now Akatsuki.
NASA recently overlooked Venus in its latest round of mission selections, much to the ire of plenty of scientists. Many fear we risk losing the expertise from previous missions. And there's plenty of reason to go back, including studying the runaway greenhouse effect that turned this world from a potentially habitable environment to the hellish landscape we see today.
Thankfully, we’ve got Akatsuki to tide us over for now. These images should, though, remind us more than anything not to forget Venus.