Venus became the first planet to be explored by a spacecraft when NASA’s Mariner 2 successfully flew by the planet at a range of 21,660 miles (34,854 kilometers) on Dec. 14, 1962. During a 42-minute scan, the spacecraft gathered significant data on the atmosphere and surface before continuing to heliocentric orbit.

Since Mariner 2, numerous spacecraft from the U.S. and other space agencies have explored Venus, including NASA’s Magellan. Magellan entered orbit on Aug. 10, 1990, and over the next four years, it used radar to pierce the planet's clouds, providing the first clear views of most of the planet’s surface. It found volcanoes, long lava channels, pancake-shaped domes, and evidence of hot mantle plumes at depth (like the one responsible for creating the Hawaiian islands).

More recently, ESA’s Venus Express orbited from 2006 to 2014. Japan’s Akatsuki Venus Climate Orbiter has been orbiting Venus since 2016.

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe has made multiple flybys of Venus, coming within about 515 miles (830 kilometers) of the surface on July 11, 2020. During that brief encounter, Parker detected a natural radio signal that revealed the spacecraft had flown through the planet’s upper atmosphere. This was the first direct measurement of the Venusian atmosphere in nearly 30 years – and it looked quite different from Venus’s past. A study of data from the Parker mission confirmed that Venus’ upper atmosphere undergoes puzzling changes over a solar cycle, the Sun’s 11-year activity cycle. The research marked the latest clue to untangling how and why Venus and Earth are so different.

On June 2, 2021, NASA announced it had selected two new missions to Venus as part of the agency's Discovery Program. The selected missions are DAVINCI (Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging) and VERITAS (Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy). Each is expected to launch in the 2028-2030 timeframe.

On June 10, 2021, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced the selection of EnVision to make detailed observations of Venus. As a key partner in the mission, NASA is providing the Synthetic Aperture Radar, called VenSAR, to make high-resolution measurements of the planet’s surface features.

Exploring the surface of Venus is difficult because of the intense heat and crushing air pressure. The longest any spacecraft has survived on the surface is a little over two hours – a record set by the Soviet Union’s Venera 13 probe in 1981. The probe returned the first color images of the surface of Venus. The last spacecraft to land on Venus was the Soviet Vega 2 mission in 1985. It survived only 52 minutes.

Earth-based radio telescopes also study Venus, including the Goldstone Solar System Radar in California, Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, and Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia.

Of course, you don’t need a spacecraft or a telescope to observe Venus. It’s the third brightest object in our sky after the Sun and Moon. It’s easy to spot in the evening or morning sky, and people have been watching Venus with their own eyes since ancient times.

As one of just two bodies between Earth and the Sun, Venus periodically passes across the face of the Sun – a phenomenon called a transit. The most recent transit occurred in 2012, and the next one isn’t until December 2117. (Transits are one of several methods astronomers use to detect exoplanets, or planets outside our solar system.)

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