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One year has passed since 11 April 2006, when Venus Express, Europes first mission to Venus and the only spacecraft now in orbit around the planet, reached its destination. Since then, this advanced probe, born to explore one of the most mysterious planetary bodies in the Solar System, has been revealing planetary details never caught before.
Intensively visited by several Russian and American probes from the 60s to the early 90s, Venus has always represented a puzzling target for scientists worldwide to observe. Venus Express, designed and built in record time by ESA, was conceived with the purpose of studying Venus - unvisited since 1994 - in the most comprehensive and systematic way ever, to provide a long-due tribute to a planet so interesting, yet cryptic.

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Credits: ESA/VIRTIS/INAF-IASF/Obs. de Paris-LESIA

Using state-of-the-art instrumentation, Venus Express is approaching the study of Venus on a global scale. The space probe is collecting information about Venus noxious and restless atmosphere (including its clouds and high-speed winds, as seen from this video obtained with the VMC camera on board) and its interaction with the solar wind and the interplanetary environment. Last but not least, it is looking for signs of surface activity, such as active volcanism.

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Mars Express and Venus Express operations extended
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ESA's Mars Express and Venus Express missions, to explore our nearest neighbour planets Mars and Venus respectively, will continue to operate until early-May 2009. The decision was unanimously taken by ESA's Science Programme Committee last Friday.

The Science Programme Committee recognised the outstanding legacy that Mars Express and Venus Express are building for future generations of scientists, and noted the invaluable heritage that these missions are leaving to future missions to these planets. The decision to extend the two missions will allow to continue the exploitation of their unique potential.
So far, both missions have allowed an amazing amount of scientific discoveries of the highest quality. Both spacecraft are equipped with a suite of sophisticated scientific instruments - many of which share a common design and the same scientific teams, and the prime objective of both the missions is a comprehensive study of the respective planets at outstanding spatial and spectral resolution.
The extension of the Mars Express and Venus Express operations will not only allow to complete the coverage carried out during the scientific phases that took place so far, but will also sustain the synergy that is being created in the interpretation of the data sets collected from both missions. Furthermore, their operational synergies have allowed for substantial cost reductions not possible when operating just one of these missions.
The scientists involved can now not only focus on planet-specific results, but focus on comparative planetology to provide new solid arguments for the current theories of planetary formation and evolution, for the conditions favourable for life to emerge in the Solar System, and for the interaction of terrestrial planets’ environment with the solar wind.

Mars Express – the present and the future
Mars Express’s watch-word is 'global mapping', at unprecedented resolution, of surface, subsurface and atmosphere of Mars, with particular emphasis on the search for water in its various states and on the search for signs of biological processes.
Results achieved by Mars Express so far include the evidence of volcanic, fluvial and glacial activity on Mars from very early in its history until very recently – possibly still going on today; the first ever sub-surface radar sounding of another planet, that led to the discovery of underground water-ice and of buried impact basins; the first comprehensive study of the mineralogical composition of the planets surface, which provided the first mineralogical evidence for the past history of water on Mars – now known with certainty to have been very abundant in the early epochs; the detection of methane in the atmosphere as a possible 'tracer' of present life on Mars or as an indicator of present volcanism; the first global measurements of the ozone levels on day- and night-sides; the existence of mid-latitude auroras on Mars; the first detailed and quantitative indications of the atmospheric escape processes - just to mention a few.
For Mars Express, a major remaining goal to be achieved is the completion of global coverage in general terms. The mission’s unique capability to produce high-resolution, stereo images in colour for geological interpretation, its capability to study the surface roughness and mineralogy, and the capability to probe at unique depths the subsurface of areas of interest as far as water and ice are concerned, makes Mars Express the ideal 'tool' to select candidate landing sites for future missions, especially valuable when the maximum possible coverage will have been reached thanks to the extended mission. Because Mars Express instruments are also largely complementary to the instruments of other missions to Mars, the data set obtained by this mission becomes even more important.

Venus Express – looking further
Venus Express is still only half-way through its (initially planned) nominal mission, but has already revealed features never detected in such detail before. These include the huge, 'double-eyed' atmospheric vortex at Venus South Pole and its 3D structure varying with the altitude, the first solid indications of the complex structures and sub-structures that characterise the thick and noxious atmosphere of the planet and its complex cloud and wind systems. These are also being studied at low altitudes, down to the surface, thanks to the first systematic exploitation ever of the so-called 'infrared windows' present in the atmosphere.
Venus Express’ results also include preliminary important measurements of the atmospheric chemistry and temperature, and the analysis of the atmospheric escape processes in combination with the action of the solar wind, fundamental to understand the water history and the evolution of the planet's atmosphere.
Venus Express' extension will allow to achieve a global coverage of the atmosphere of this planet, so similar and at the same time so different from Earth. It will also allow to completely address, thanks to a thorough analysis of surface temperature and chemistry maps, the question on whether Venus is a planet still geologically and volcanically active.
Thanks to its extension Venus Express will also be able to continue the first extensive study of the strong green-house effect on the planet – a subject extremely interesting for planetary climate experts, and an important element of comparison for the evolution of the green-house effect on Earth.

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Thanks to ESA’s Venus Express data, scientists obtained the first large-area temperature maps of the southern hemisphere of the inhospitable, lead-melting surface of Venus.
The new data may help with searching and identifying ‘hot spots’ on the surface, considered to be possible signs of active volcanism on the planet.
The results, presented today at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) assembly in San Francisco, USA, were obtained thanks to VIRTIS, the Visible and Infrared Thermal Imaging Spectrometer on board Venus Express.
To obtain this fundamental information about the surface temperature, VIRTIS made use of the so-called infrared spectral 'windows’ present in the Venusian atmosphere. Through these ‘windows’ thermal radiation at specific wavelengths can leak from the deepest atmospheric layers, pass through the dense cloud curtain situated at about 60 kilometres altitude, and then escape to space, where it can be detected by instruments like VIRTIS. In this way VIRTIS succeeded in looking through the thick carbon dioxide curtain surrounding Venus and detected the heat directly emitted by the hot rocks on the ground.

VIRTIS_TMap

The temperature maps of the Venusian surface shown in this image were built thanks to direct measurements obtained by Venus Express’ VIRTIS instruments.
Credits: ESA/VIRTIS-VenusX Team


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Cassini's spectacular image of Saturn's polar vortex, published this month by NASA, may provide astronomers with a missing piece in the puzzle of how that planet's atmosphere works. For planetary scientists studying Venus, the image was strangely familiar.
Ever since the late 1970s, scientists have known of a similar polar vortex on Earth's nearest neighbour. For six months now, ESA’s Venus Express has been studying this enigmatic atmospheric structure.

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Venus Express just received an extra birthday present. In the same week as the first anniversary of the spacecraft’s launch, the editors of Popular Science magazine named Venus Express as one of the top 100 technological innovations of the year.

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One year after its launch on 9 November 2005 and a few months into its science phase, ESA's Venus Express keeps working well and continues to gather lots of data about the hot and noxious atmosphere of the planet. Newly released images show additional details of the thick cloud deck that surrounds Venus.

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In its relentless probing of Venus's atmosphere, ESA's Venus Express keeps revealing new details of the Venusian cloud system. Meteorology at Venus is a complex matter, scientists say.
New night-side infrared images gathered by the Ultraviolet, Visible and Near-Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIRTIS) in July 2006, clearly show new details of a complex cloud system.


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Credit ESA

The first (false colour) view - the composite of three infrared images acquired by VIRTIS, was taken on 22 July when the spacecraft was flying around the apocentre of its orbit (point of maximum distance from the planet surface) at about 65 000 kilometres altitude. Venus was in the night side.
Using its capability to observe at 1.7-micrometre wavelength, VIRTIS could probe at about 15-20 kilometres altitude, below the thick cloud deck situated at about 60 kilometres from the surface. The thermal radiation coming from the oven-hot surface of Venus is represented by the intensity of the colours: the brighter the colour (towards white), the more radiation comes from the surface, so the less cloudy the region in the line of sight between the view and the spacecraft is.
The edge of the images, taken at a time interval of about 30 minutes from each other, do not precisely match. This is due to the fact that clouds on Venus move very rapidly and constantly vary their shape. Venus’s atmosphere is certainly the most dynamic among the terrestrial planets that have one, taking only four days to completely rotate around the planet.

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Venus is an enigma, wrapped in a mystery, inside a dense cloud of carbon dioxide (CO2).

But a suite of orbiting instruments is proving its able to penetrate the thick atmosphere and create a new and dynamic picture of Earth's sister planet.
Scientists at the Division of Planetary Sciences meeting in Pasadena, California, this week said that data streaming from the Venus Express probe had provided unprecedented detail of the Venusian atmosphere and the first-ever peek at its lower strata.

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Report for Period 17 September to 23 September 2006
The reporting period contained a spacecraft hardware safe which occurred on 22 September (DoY 265) at 19:24 UT.

The outage has caused the following impact at mission level :
* science operations from Safe Mode occurrence until spacecraft recovery to nominal operations (266 11.00) have been skipped
* USO switched OFF for about 15 hours

The spacecraft is now back in routine operations and nominal planning for the upcoming week has already been resumed. The ground segment performance has been nominal throughout the reporting period.

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