These photographs were shot in 1975, so… they’re not super new. But I periodically get blown away by them again. Folks, that’s the SURFACE OF VENUS. Actual photos, shot by the Soviet Venera 9 probe. (Well, they’re composite images, perspective-corrected, from amazing work done by Don P. Mitchell and posted on this site here.) I’ve seen them dozens of times — I kind of have a Venus thing — but for some reason I find them just as completely mind-exploding as the first time I saw them, each time.
One other amazing thing: These were actually the first images ever returned of the surface of another planet shot from said surface. We got these before we got our first surface images of Mars!
Venera 9 lasted a whopping 53 minutes before Venus destroyed it. That’s not even sarcastic — that’s an amazing feat for 1975 engineering.
These were shot 39 years ago. I love the probe program, so that’s not really an indictment or anything. But I really hope that we return sometime soon. VeSpR made a sub-orbital pass late last year, and there’s a concept on the books for the Venus Mobile Explorer (to collect atmospheric-change-related data), but I don’t see anything else coming up from NASA right now. Maybe someone else will go?
A funny story about the Venera missions, for anyone who read this far: Venera 14 included a tool to measure a bunch of data about the soil. However, when the lens cap popped off the camera after landing, it landed *right* where the soil probe was pointed, and there was no way to move it or the probe. So the probe measured the compressibility of the lens cap instead of the soil. (Some of the other data it was supposed to get, they were able to get via other means.) I’m actually kind of surprised that that story doesn’t end with scientist-on-engineer homicide.