Exploring the Planets

Seeing Through the Clouds

Thick clouds cover Venus, hiding its surface from view. Since the 1960s, astronomers have used radio waves, transmitted from antennas on Earth or on satellites orbiting Venus, to penetrate the clouds and map the planet. The resulting images reveal surface roughness, density, and slope, but not color.

Unless otherwise noted, all of the images of Venus in this website were collected by the Magellan spacecraft. Magellan used radar to produce the first high-resolution global map of Venus. Brighter areas are rougher or face toward the radar; darker areas are smooth or face away from the radar. Areas of high elevation, such as mountain ranges or volcanoes, also appear very bright. Black stripes are areas of missing data.

All Magellan images courtesy of NASA

3D View of Alpha Regio on Venus

Alpha Regio


Magellan's large main antenna bounced radar signals off the surface of Venus and transmitted the resulting data back to Earth. A computer processed the data to form the images of Venus displayed on this site. The smaller "horn" antenna is a radar altimeter, which measured the heights of surface features. The solar panels provided electric power. Magellan orbited Venus from 1990 until 1995, when it burned up in the planet's atmosphere.

Magellan Preparations

The Magellan spacecraft with its attached Inertial Upper Stage booster is in the orbiter Atlantis payload bay prior to closure of the doors at T-3 days to launch from pad 39B. Launch of Magellan and Space Shuttle Mission STS-30 was targeted for Friday, April 28, 1989.