Scientists in Europe have released their first photos of Venus' southern pole sent from the Venus Express spacecraft. They show dense, swirling clouds similar to formations found at the planet's northern pole.
This image from Thursday shows a composite view of Venus' south pole
The images are the first pictures ever taken of the neighboring planet's southern pole and provide researchers with new data about Venus' largely unknown atmosphere. The spacecraft's monitoring camera will take photographs over the next few months with aim of getting a more comprehensive picture of cloud formations and climate developments.
"We can see there is a twister here that is similar to that which we know from the northern pole," said Horst Uwe Keller, leader of the team operating the craft's wide-angle, multichannel camera.
Venus Express is studying the cloud system in the planet's violent atmosphere
The clouds are 13 miles deep and completely enclose Venus. With infrared technology that enables the camera to peer though the clouds, scientists hope to determine how the sulphuric acid around the planet was formed, and find the cause of the high winds that send it billowing in massive clouds.
Shared characteristics with Earth?
Researchers want to learn when and why the planet's extreme atmosphere developed the way it did, featuring temperatures reaching up to 500 degrees Celsius and hurricane-like storms. They also want to find out if Venus ever had an atmosphere or other features more similar to Earth's.
"There's also the question of how large the zone in the universe is where life can develop," said Keller.
A picture released Thursday shows clouds at the south pole
Europe's first space probe to Venus slipped smoothly into orbit on Tuesday. In the next several weeks, scientists will run more thorough tests on the spacecraft's instruments and by June, all instruments should be fully functioning.
In the coming moths, the Venus Express will tighten its orbit around the planet, providing scientists more detailed and revealing images of the planet from a distance of about 155 miles (250 kilometers).