A team of astronomers combining radio data from the Green Bank Telescope, West Virginia, and data from the radar transmitter at the National Science Foundation's Arecibo Observatory, Puerto Rico, have compiled a stunning new view of Venus. Often described as Earth's twin due to its similar proportions, capturing high quality images of the inhospitable planet has traditionally been a challenging prospect thanks to extreme atmospheric conditions. However, by combining observations from the instruments to create a more complete picture of Venus, astronomers can begin to observe how this enigmatic celestial object evolves over time.
Venus is clearly visible in the night sky, appearing as an incredibly bright spot in the west depending on the time of the year. The planet is wreathed in dense clouds made up predominantly of carbon dioxide, that serve to reflect the Sun's light, accounting for its prominence in the sky at night, while heating the planet's surface to temperatures in excess of 470º C (880º F).
Surface Maps of Venus had previously been obtained by NASA's Magellan spacecraft, which, while orbiting Venus, used radar imaging to pierce through the thick clouds. The new image did not require expensive assets in orbit, instead utilizing a combination of instruments using ground based bistatic radar to pierce through both the interference present within our own atmosphere, and the more turbulent atmosphere cloaking Venus.
The finished image contains a wealth of geological features, and the high level of detail to which the surface is captured will allow astronomers to accurately map the short term evolution of the planet's surface and subsurface activity, pinpointing areas of increased volcanic activity and generally improving our understanding of Earth's twin.