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Venera Space Program

11 Apr

While we initially started this blog to focus on the interesting things on Earth, we soon realized that some of man’s greatest achievements involve our quest for exploration of our solar system. Because of this, we decided to have an ‘Out of this World’ category that  focuses on human achievements and discoveries that are not on this planet. This post will be the first in the category, with more to come soon.

The Venera Space Program was a Soviet attempt to create space probes to gather data about the planet Venus.

The missions began in 1961, with the Venera 1 craft, and ran through until 1984 with Venera 16.

 Venera 11 Lander - NASA

Venera 11 Lander – NASA

Venera 1 & 2

Venera 1 (1961) & 2 (1965) were meant to be pass-by probes that would collect data as they passed Venus. Unfortunately, both missions suffered from telemetry failure before reaching Venus.

The Soviet Union launched several other probes in the early 1960’s, but these were not announced as planetary observation missions.

Venera 3, 4, 5 & 6

Venera 3 was special. Although the Venera crafts 3-6 were all very similar, Venera 3 was the first craft to reach the surface of another planet. This occurred on March 1st, 1966, when the Venera 3 craft crash landed on the surface of the planet. Unfortunately, due to the entry through the atmosphere, all the data probes on board burned up and were unable to record any data.

Venera 4 was able to provide minor information about the atmosphere of Venus. Unfortunately, the hull of the craft was only able to handle 25atm, much less than the 75-100atm pressures on the surface of Venus.

Venera 5 and 6 were sent as atmospheric probes, and were able to record approximately 50 minutes of data before the batteries drained.

Venera 7 & 8

Venera 7 was the first craft to transmit data back from the surface of another planet. It was designed to survive the pressures, but its parachutes failed on entry and it toppled over during the landing. The signal was weak from the craft, but there was enough time for a transmission to be made.

Venera 8 was very similar; it was able to transmit data during its descent, measure sunlight and transmit data for nearly an hour.

Venera 9, 10, 11 & 12

The Venera craft 9-12 were designed to take photos and transmit the data back to Earth. They were all equipped with two cameras, but during the first two missions (9 &10), only one camera each time was able to capture photos due to the other camera’s lens cap failing to release. Venera 11 and 12 suffered worse; neither of the lens caps on these craft were released. Throughout these missions, the craft were operational for between 50 and 110 minutes.

Venera 13 & 14

These two Venera craft were equipped with much more scientific instrumentation. Here is a list of what was on board, taken from Wikipedia.

  • Accelerometer, Impact Analysis – Bison-M
  • Thermometers, Barometers – ITD
  • Spectrometer / Directional Photometer – IOAV-2
  • Ultraviolet Photometer
  • Mass Spectrometer – MKh-6411
  • Penetrometer / Soil Ohmmeter – PrOP-V
  • Chemical Redox Indicator – Kontrast
  • 2 Color Telephotometer Cameras – TFZL-077
  • Gas Chromatograph – Sigma-2
  • Radio / Microphone / Seismometer – Groza-2
  • Nephelometer – MNV-78-2
  • Hydrometer – VM-3R
  • X-Ray Fluorescence Spectrometer (Aerosol) – BDRA-1V
  • X-Ray Fluorescence Spectrometer (Soil) – Arakhis-2
  • Soil Drilling Apparatus – GZU VB-02
  • Stabilized Oscillator / Doppler Radio
  • Small solar batteries – MSB
Image from the right camera of Venera 13

Image from the right camera of Venera 13 – NASA

Image from the left camera of Venera 13

Image from the left camera of Venera 13 – NASA

Venera 15 & 16

These probes were similar to the previous probes, but were equipped with surface imaging radar to help with the entry that was obstructed by the thick clouds of Venus’ atmosphere.

For more detailed information, see the Wikipedia article on the Venera craft:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venera

What was the Tunguska Event?

28 Mar

Early in the morning of June 17th, 1908, an enormous explosion rocked a remote Siberian area of Russia known as Krasnoyask Krai. The explosion was so massive that it leveled an entire forest of 80 million trees, and it is estimated that it was more than 1000 times more powerful than the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima during World War II. The epicenter of the explosion was in a swamp near the Podkamennaya Tunguska River, so the event became known as the Tunguska Event.

Location of the explosion's epicenter in Russia

Location of the explosion’s epicenter in Russia

Luckily, despite the size of the event, it is thought that only one person was killed by the blast (although, not so lucky for the poor man who was killed). This was due to the sheer remoteness of the area that was hit. A lot of people did see it happen, though. Witnesses from areas much farther south claimed that they saw something extremely bright and pale blue moving across the sky, and a few minutes later there was a bright flash accompanied by a thunderous sound. A shockwave, which would have registered at 5.0 on the Richter scale, caused people to be knocked off their feet hundreds of kilometers away.

Fallen trees after the explosion, taken in 1927 by Leonid Kulik's expedition to the area

Fallen trees after the explosion, taken in 1927 by Leonid Kulik’s expedition to the area

So, what actually caused this massive explosion? There are several theories. Some have claimed that it may have been caused by the release of natural gases from the Earth’s crust, and others proposed that the explosion may have been a nuclear one; caused by deuterium in a comet undergoing nuclear fusion as it entered the Earth’s atmosphere. Another theory claimed that it was caused by a black hole passing through Earth. And, of course, a lot of people have brought up theories involving UFOs and aliens, especially since as the event is referenced in pop-culture quite a lot.

However, the most widely-accepted explanation is that a large meteoroid or comet caused it, exploding just above the Earth’s surface. This would explain the lack of an impact crater in the area. If this is true, then it was the largest impact event on or near the Earth in modern history. Chemical analysis of soils in the region showed that parts of it contained materials of extraterrestrial origin, further supporting this impact theory.

Meteor. Credit: Navicore

Meteor falling to Earth. Credit: Navicore

Despite the fact that the Tunguska Event is still technically unexplained, I would agree that the impact event theory seems to be the most likely. I think it would be even more interesting if there were a more mysterious explanation, though! It’s also very fortunate that it happened in such a remote area, because if it hit a populated area, then the aftermath would have been far worse.

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