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These images are two versions of a near-infrared map of lower-level clouds on the night side of Venus, obtained by the Near Infrared Mapping Spectrometer aboard the Galileo spacecraft as it approached the planet February 10, 1990. Taken from an altitude of about 22,000 miles above the planet, at an infrared wavelength of 2.3 microns (about three times the longest wavelength visible to the human eye) the map shows an area of the turbulent, cloudy middle atmosphere some 30-33 miles above the surface, 6-10 miles below the visible cloudtops. With a spatial resolution of about 13 miles, this is the sharpest image ever obtained of the mid-level clouds of Venus. The image to the left shows the radiant heat from the lower atmosphere (about 400 degrees Fahrenheit) shining through the sulfuric acid clouds, which appear as much as 10 times darker than the bright gaps between clouds. This cloud layer is at about - 30 degrees Fahrenheit, at a pressure about 1/2 Earth's atmospheric pressure. This high-resolution map covers a 40- degree-wide sector of the Northern Hemisphere. The several irregular vertical stripes are data dropouts. The right image, a modified negative, represents what scientists believe would be the visual appearance of this mid-level cloud deck in daylight, with the clouds reflecting sunlight instead of blocking out infrared from the hot planet and lower atmosphere. Near the equator, the clouds appear fluffy and blocky; farther north, they are stretched out into East-West filaments by winds estimated at more than 150 mph, while the poles are capped by thick clouds at this altitude. The Near Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (NIMS) on the Galileo spacecraft is a combined mapping (imaging) and spectral instrument. It can sense 408 contiguous wavelengths from 0.7 microns (deep red) to 5.2 microns, and can construct a map or image by mechanical scanning. It can spectroscopically analyze atmospheres and surfaces and construct thermal and chemical maps. Designed and operated by scientists and engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NIMS involves 15 scientists in the U.S., England, and France. The Galileo Project is managed for NASA's Office of Space Science and Applications by JPL; its mission is to study the planet Jupiter and its satellites and magnetosphere after multiple gravity-assist flybys at Venus and the Earth.
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