Monday, December 31, 2012

50 Years Ago: Mariner II at Venus

Mariner Space Probe illustration.

On this last day of 2012, I'm trying to catch up on some 50 years ago items from 1962. On december 14, 1962, the Mariner 2 space probe made its closest pass to the planet Venus. Closing to about 41,000 km, the encounter was also the first time a planetary probe had reached another planet. Mariner 2 had had several problems along the way, but the durability of the craft came through and gave the world new information about our sister planet.

The data radioed back from Mariner confirmed scientists' estimates of the incredibly hot temperatures and the thick atmosphere of the planet. It also determined that the temperature was fairly evenly distributed around the entire globe. Experiments searching for a magnetic field came up empty, meaning Venus either had a very tiny magnetic field or there wasn't one. Other interesting discoveries showed that Venus had a slow rotation that was in the opposite direction from that of Earth's and that there was no radiation belt like our own Van Allen Belt.

Mariner 2 continued on past Venus into an orbit around the Sun. It was last heard from on January 3, 1963, and is still out there today....

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