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The Last Images From Doomed Space Probes

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Venera 13 peers down at Venus.

Venus, in all its stinking hot glory.
Image: USSR Academy of Sciences / Brown University

Decades before the other missions on this list, the USSR launched a series of probes to Venus. The Venera program (Russian for “Venus”) ran from 1961 to 1983 and included a number of flyby spacecraft, orbiters, and landers. Four of those landers—Venera 9, 10, 13, and 14—returned images from the Venusian surface. But Venera 13’s images were the first in color.

Venus’ surface is nearly 900 degrees Fahrenheit, with the pressure of many dozens of Earth atmospheres. Venera 13 survived only about two hours on the hostile planet, sending panoramic images back to Earth. One of those images was in color: The landscape appears yellow due to the dense atmosphere. A version of the image with those atmospheric effects removed reveals a stretch of rock and dusty terrain, but not much else. A discarded lens cap and the rim of the lander are visible at center.

While NASA made it to Venus with the Magellan mission, the spacecraft never reached the planet’s surface. In 1994, it dove into Venus’ atmosphere, where it burned up. Hopefully the agency’s upcoming missions to Venus—VERITAS and DAVINCI+—provide us better views of Venus’ inhospitable terrain.

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