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Venus poses for new photographs

European scientists released new photos of Venus? south pole on Thursday, revealing a swirling mass of sulphuric acid clouds powered by 220 mph winds. The clouds, 13 miles deep, completely enclose Venus.

india Updated: Apr 15, 2006 12:13 IST

European scientists released new photos of Venus’ south pole on Thursday, revealing a swirling mass of sulphuric acid clouds powered by 220 mph winds. The clouds, 13 miles deep, completely enclose Venus.

The new images of the planet’s south pole, which is turned away from Earth, closely resemble those of its more familiar north pole. The images, taken from the European Space Agency’s orbiting Venus Express spacecraft from a distance of roughly 124,000 miles, show pale clouds turning around a dark vortex.

“We can see there is a swirl here that is similar to the one we know from the north pole,” said Horst Uwe Keller, who leads the team operating the craft’s wide-angle camera – one of seven instruments aboard the Venus Express.

Using infrared technology that allows the camera to peer though the clouds, scientists hope to be able to determine how the sulphuric acid that swathes the planet was formed, and pinpoint the cause of the high-speed winds that sends it swirling in massive clouds.

The images were taken on Wednesday, one day after Venus Express went into orbit around the planet. ESA controllers in Darmstadt, Germany, switched on each instrument individually to make sure they had survived slowing the vessel so it could be captured by Venus’ gravity.

In the next several weeks, scientists will run more thorough tests on the spacecraft’s instruments, designed to help researchers better understand the atmosphere and climate of Earth’s neighbour. By June, they expect to have all instruments fully functioning.

First Published: Apr 15, 2006 12:13 IST