Venus Revealed: A New Look below the Clouds of Our Mysterious Twin Planetby David Harry Grinspoon
Until very recently, all we really knew about Venus, our nearest planetary neighbor, was that it was roughly the same size and mass as the earth and was surrounded by a thick atmosphere. Then, in 1989, American scientists launched Magellanthe spacecraft that would revolutionize our vision of this mysterious planet. Venus Revealed is the first book to/i>
Until very recently, all we really knew about Venus, our nearest planetary neighbor, was that it was roughly the same size and mass as the earth and was surrounded by a thick atmosphere. Then, in 1989, American scientists launched Magellanthe spacecraft that would revolutionize our vision of this mysterious planet. Venus Revealed is the first book to explain the breathtaking results of this mission, which unveiled a Venusian world of active volcanoes, shining mountains, and river valleys carved by torrents of flowing lava. At one time, Venus may have even had a wet, temperate climate, much like Earth’s. What happened to turn it into a hostile, burning acid world? The answer could very well help us solve some of our most pressing environmental problemsfrom global warming to acid rain. In Venus Revealed, David Grinspoon eloquently argues that studying our exotic twin will inevitable teach us more about ourselves.
Grinspoon (Astrophysics/Univ. of Colorado, Boulder) draws on data from US and Soviet space missions, as well as conventional astronomical observations (and folklore) to present the most detailed picture of Venus available for lay readers. Venus is the brightest of the planets, and it approaches Earth more closely than any other; its orbit is locked to ours in a complex harmonic relationship that repeats five times every eight years. But its thick sulfuric-acid cloud cover prevented direct observation of its surface, and so imaginative Victorian astronomers had a field day guessing at its features (planet-wide oceans or primitive swamps were common guesses). When space probes began to return data from Venus, they brought a harsh blast of reality. Surface temperatures turned out to be close to 900 degrees Fahrenheit, and the atmospheric pressure was crushing. Our planetary "twin" began to look a lot less like home; indeed, press reports invariably referred to the Venusian climate as hellish. But for the scientists Venus became more intriguing: Why should a planet almost exactly the same size as Earth be so different? As radio telescopes and further space vehicles (notably Magellan, launched in 1989Grinspoon is a scientist with the mission) allowed them to map the surface, they began to find other mysteries: an apparent shortage of impact craters and a surface that betrayed no evidence of plate tectonics, the force that drives earthly geology. Grinspoon speculates on these subjects and on the possibility that life might somehow have evolved on Venus. The author's presentation is remarkably livelyhe writes in a breezy, slightly irreverent style, without ever slighting the large body of factual material he presents.
A solid, thoroughly enjoyable presentation of almost everything a layman might find useful about one of the strangest planets in our solar system.
- Basic Books
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Meet the Author
David Harry Grinspoon is assistant professor of astrophysical and planetary sciences at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Since 1990, Professor Grinspoon has studied Venus as a Principal Investigator for NASA’s Planetary Atmospheres and Venus Data Analysis Program. He lives in Denver.
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