Monday, April 10, 2006

Venus: Final Approach

ESA's Venus Express spacecraft is on final approach to the planet right now. Here are a few pictures of the planet, which will soon cease to be state-of-the-art if all goes well.

More images of the planet. I've deliberately omitted any Magellan images, just for the sake of variety.

Updated 11:51pm PDT: Inexplicably, there's no mission status page up over at SpaceflightNow. The closest you can get to live updates, as far as I can tell, is a webcam at ESA mission control, which updates every 30 seconds or so. You can see what's happening, more or less, although there's nothing to explain what's happening.

Many of the latest batch of stories showing up on Google News mention that the probe will research the planet's runaway greenhouse effect. Which is a big reason you won't see a US probe to the planet any time soon. Certain interested parties don't really care to learn any more about the warming effects of CO2. GWB & Co. would never fund a mission to Venus, and if a successor did so post-2008, it wouldn't make it out of the appropriations committee in Congress. The media would compliantly label the whole idea "too controversial", a "hot potato", and it'd be dead for another decade or two. And any insights that come from Venus Express will be automatically dismissed or ignored, just because they come from foreigners, from whom we can learn nothing.

And that's assuming that ESA's lackluster PR outfit gets the news out in the first place, which is far from certain.

On the bright side, we do get another NASA impactor mission in 2008. The LCROSS probe will be a secondary payload riding along with the big Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. The plan is to crash the LRO/LCROSS launch vehicle's upper stage into the moon and study the debris looking for water. Well, that, and also because big explosions rock, and grow hair on your chest. Gotta teach those hippie moon-huggers a lesson, or something. Maybe we'll even do it on the 4th of July again, or maybe even right before the election. Well, actually I don't know how that would play with the flat earth crowd, so we'll probably have to run some polls and consult with Karl first. I mean, the planet is apparently mentioned in the Bible, so we can be sure it really does exist and isn't just a liberal conspiracy or something -- although the brief reference seems to indicate the ancient Hebrews followed contemporary Greek practice and identified the morning and evening "stars" as separate entities. So assuming the Bible is inerrant, there's got to be two Venuslike planets out there, not just the one. Oh, except that they're actually stars that move, not planets.

Here are some additional goofy ideas about the planet:

  • Velikovsky was a prominent astronomical crackpot back in the 50's. In his theories, Venus wandered the solar system at random, wreaking havoc everywhere it went, explaining all sorts of historical phenomena.
  • A site suggesting that the planet's "Biblical orbit" was off by 5% from what's currently observed, and this has all sorts of obscure numerological implication.
  • An article about Astrology in the Bible. Two great tastes that taste great together!
  • Another religious article, Venus and Last Days Deceptions. Naturally, the gray aliens are involved somehow.
  • Also, there's a conspiracy going on. But you probably knew that already.

Updated again: Venus Express is now in orbit. Or at least that's what "they" want you to think. :)

Updated yet again (4/12): The Planetary Society reports that the first Venus Express images will be released at 7am PST, 4/13. The current orbit is fairly distant and elongated, so it's supposed to be just an inkling of what we'll be seeing when VEX gets down to business. Of course, if ESA's image release policy is the same as what they've been doing with Mars Express and SMART-1, the public will get to see maybe one new image a month, tops, no matter how many they actually take. But that's just their way, I guess. Nature has an article titled "Venus ahoy!" that's also worth reading.

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