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Venus Revealed: A New Look below the Clouds of Our Mysterious Twin Planet


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 Magellan—the 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 ...

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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 Magellan—the 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 problems—from global warming to acid rain. In Venus Revealed, David Grinspoon eloquently argues that studying our exotic twin will inevitable teach us more about ourselves.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
University of Colorado-Boulder planetary scientist Grinspoon clearly loves the subject of this exemplary work, the unfolding of our knowledge of "Earth's Twin." As a principal scientist on the recent Magellan mission to Venus, he quite naturally focuses on that project's discoveries, but his book is rich as well in anecdotes about correct and incorrect speculations, blind alleys and spectacular surprises as human knowledge of our sister planet grew over the centuries. Grinspoon himself winds up speculating about non-carbon-based life on Venus and about the possibility that carbon-based life began there and migrated here on meteorites four billion years ago. Though some might view this concept as outrageous, his irreverent style and his admission that he is indulging in a flight of fancy with serious intent make his final chapter, like all his others, great fun as well as greatly informative. At important points in the book, Grinspoon leaves Venus and returns to Earth, highlighting the way people do-and love-science, the relationship between big science and national defense projects, the vagaries of government funding and, most important, our role as custodians and manipulators of our fragile environment. His book is full of quirky facts, references to popular culture, clever similes and inventive and revealing metaphors and analogies. Even the footnotes are entertaining. But Grinspoon remains true to his serious purpose, concluding that "the most important benefit of planetary explanation will be self-knowledge.... We should treasure every bit of knowledge and insight Venus can provide. It's the only twin we've got." Photos not seen by PW. Feb.
Library Journal
Perhaps outshone of late by headline-grabbers like Mars and Jupiter, our sister planet seems ovedue for some attention. Grinspoon astrophysical sciences, Univ. of Colorado, Boulder, and a principal scientist on the Magellan space probe mission to Venus has fashioned his book as a kind of prolonged undergraduate lecture, loosely organized and accessible. His talky-cutesy approach, however, works against him. That is unfortunate, as the book offers considerable information on the orbital, geological, and atmospheric processes of Venus gathered through Earth-based observations and various U.S. and Soviet probes. Grinspoon's discussion of Venus in light of comparative planetology is easy enough to understand, touching on acid rain, plate tectonics, and cometary impacts; yet one quickly tires of the professor's effort to charm with his enlightened politics and his impulsive, largely frivolous footnoting. Patient readers may find it useful; impatient ones will do well by skipping about the text; libraries may prefer to wait for a less exasperating treatment.-Patrick Dunn, East Tennessee State Univ. Libs., Johnson City
Kirkus Reviews
Venus is sometimes described as Earth's twin planet; here's an up-to-date look at that world next door.

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 1989—Grinspoon 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 lively—he 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.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780201328394
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 4/28/1998
  • Pages: 400
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

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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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 5, 2006

    Excellent Book About Our Sister Planet

    An excellent book! Results from two (American and Soviet) brilliant programs of space exploration are explained by an author who is intellectually competent, lucid and imaginative. The subject is the planet Venus, which turns out to be a hellish world. The terrain is ferociously volcanic and so hot (840 °F) that is glows a dull red at night. The small amount of sunlight that reaches the ground is also red. Rivers of congealed lava are longer than any river on Earth. The lower atmosphere is as hot as the ground, heavily sulfurous and devoid of breathable oxygen. The atmospheric pressure at ground level is 90 times what it is on Earth. Venus is covered by clouds of sulfuric acid droplets that until recently have barred any observation of the ground and lower atmosphere. These clouds have a complex, tri-layered structure. Dr. Grinspoon (the author) points out that they are in some ways like the Earth¿s oceans¿although they contain far less material. At a height of 30-45 miles from the ground, they are cool enough to support life however, they contain little or no water. Above the clouds, the winds blow westward at a constant 220 mile per hour. There are two interesting orbital synchronies between Earth and Venus. The first is that Venus passes the Earth exactly five times every eight Earth years, so that the closest approach always occurs in the same region of space relative to the sun. The second is that Venus rotates on its axis almost exactly five times during this period, so that the same part of Venus always faces the Earth at closest approach. It is as though the Earth reached out and altered the movements of our sister planet, with no reciprocal effect on the Earth. Since the two planets are nearly the same size, such a non-reciprocal effect is very unlikely and these strange orbital synchronies remain unexplained. The book also describes human phenomena, including the heartbreaking mission approval process and the legendary ability of Mission Control to rescue probes from disaster. Grinspoon makes a point of giving other cultures their due when it comes to knowledge about Venus, and describes the observational triumphs of the ancient Mayan and Sumerian civilizations. In the aftermath of the Soviet Union¿s collapse and Russia¿s subsequent woes, it is easy to forget how impressive Soviet engineering could sometimes be, and Grinspoon describes this. The book also makes suggestions about future exploration of Venus. This includes the possibility of balloon observatories that float among the Venusian clouds. The photos of Venus and the other illustrations are terrific.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 4, 2003

    As regards to science, this book is excellent

    Grinspoon's book VENUS REVEALED has taught me more about basic astronomy, chemistry and comparative planetology than I ever learned in all my high school textbooks. It is well written and easy to follow. I especially like the way the author uses his words to create the picture of another world and it's enviroment. My only criticism is that Grinspoon tends to ramble off in several places about his silly leftist politics. He should keep his writing pure to science and leave his Marxist sympathies at home.

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