Maps of Venus
The interior of Venus. The layers are: cloud, surface crust, mantle, outer core, inner core. CREDIT: Megan
Part of the ''fun'' of doing research is having to give talks. At Jodrell, students are expected to give one talk each year, but it doesn't have to be about your research. Last year (with help from Stuart) I did a quiz to find out how much astronomy people actually knew. The next one is approaching and I'm looking for a topic again. It would be good to do something daft like last year, but time is an issue. Venus seems quite topical...
There are likely to be a lot of stories about the planet in the near future, what with the launch of ESA's Venus Express just around the corner. While looking for interesting pictures of the planet I found this interactive map at the Adler Planetarium. Lots of fun!
Maps of the surface of Venus are made using radar because the atmosphere is so thick. The clouds which cover the entire surface largely block visible light but let through radio waves. Probes such as Magellan have mapped the surface of the planet in the past by sending radio signals towards the surface and then listening for the reflections. The time taken for the reflection tells you exactly how far away the surface is from the transmitter. The surface is an exciting place with lots of recently created terrain caused by massive geological activity, huge depressions, massive volcanoes and even pancake domes.
Venus Express is designed to reuse instruments designed for the Mars Express and Rosetta missions and will probe the atmosphere of Venus, rather than the surface. In theory, if conditions had been slightly different, the atmosphere of Earth might have ended up like that of Venus and we would not be here. Despite being further from the Sun, Venus has a higher surface temperature than Mercury because of the thick atmosphere full of greenhouse gases. There are extreme weather patterns such as huge areas of hurricane-force winds that travel around the planet in about 96 hours (four Earth days), despite the planet taking 243 Earth days to turn once on its axis (I wonder if Venusians would still complan that there weren't enough hours in the day). Venus Express will explore the atmosphere using spectrometers, radar sounding, magnetometers and analysis of the plasma it detects.
That's my current thought anyway. If you've got any better ideas for a talk, let me know.