10 August 1990

The Magellan space probe reaches Venus.

The Magellan spacecraft, also known as the Venus Radar Mapper, was a robotic space probe sent by NASA to study the planet Venus. It was named after the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who was the first person to circumnavigate the Earth. Magellan’s primary mission was to map the surface of Venus using synthetic aperture radar (SAR) technology.

Launch and Mission Duration: Magellan was launched on May 4, 1989, aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis (STS-30). After its launch, the spacecraft performed a series of orbital maneuvers using its onboard propulsion system to eventually reach Venus. It entered orbit around Venus on August 10, 1990. The mission lasted until October 12, 1994, when Magellan was deliberately deorbited into Venus’s atmosphere to gather data before its destruction.

Mapping Venus: Magellan’s primary objective was to use its SAR system to map nearly the entire surface of Venus, which is shrouded in thick clouds that prevent direct visual observation from space. The spacecraft was equipped with a high-resolution radar system that could penetrate the clouds and provide detailed images of the planet’s surface features.

Radar Imaging: The SAR instrument aboard Magellan emitted radar signals towards Venus and then collected the echoes that bounced back from the surface. These echoes were used to construct detailed images of the terrain, revealing the topography, geological features, and surface composition of Venus.

Discoveries: Magellan’s observations revolutionized our understanding of Venus. The spacecraft revealed a vast array of geological features, including volcanoes, impact craters, mountains, valleys, and large plains. The data also helped scientists understand the planet’s tectonic activity and the presence of extensive volcanic activity, which had resurfaced much of Venus relatively recently.

Impact on Science: The data collected by Magellan significantly expanded our knowledge of Venus and helped reshape theories about its geology and geological processes. The mission provided important insights into the differences between Earth and Venus and offered a new perspective on the processes shaping planetary surfaces in our solar system.

End of Mission: After completing its primary mapping objectives, Magellan’s orbit was lowered gradually to allow it to gather atmospheric data during its descent into Venus’s atmosphere. This data contributed to our understanding of the planet’s composition and atmospheric conditions. The spacecraft eventually burned up in Venus’s atmosphere, ending its mission on October 12, 1994.