Black-and-white image of volcanoes on Venus

Factfile: Venus

Acid clouds and floods of lava – it may be our nearest planetary neighbour, but Venus is utterly inhospitable to human life.

This image of Venus, one of 77 photographs appearing in Otherworlds: Visions of our Solar System, shows the area surrounding the Uretsete Mons and Spandarmat Mons volcanoes.

Created using radar data returned by NASA's Magellan spacecraft in 1990, it captures the planet's relatively smooth and unmarked surface, with lava flows showing up as lighter streaks.

Venus has fewer impact craters than any other planet, and its visible craters appear almost untouched, suggesting a uniformly young surface. Some researchers believe that Venus underwent a 'catastrophic resurfacing' as the entire planet was flooded with lava, while others believe the resurfacing may have happened gradually over a prolonged period of volcanic activity.

The difficulty of obtaining accurate data about Venus' surface means there are still significant gaps in our knowledge about the planet. A 20-kilometre-thick layer of sulphuric acid cloud surrounds Venus, making it difficult to obtain accurate remote sensing information about the surface. 

No surface probe has survived more than an hour on Venus, which has an atmospheric pressure 90 times higher than our own and an average surface temperature of 464 degrees Celsius. And as no Venusian rock has ever been dated, there's a huge level of uncertainty around the age of Venus's surface - estimates range from 180 million years to 800 million years. 

Audio commentary extract

Dr Robin Armstrong, Economic Geologist at the Museum, explores how radar is used to look underneath Venus's thick atmosphere.

A 20 kilometer thick layer of sulphuric acid clouds surrounding the planet makes it difficult to get accurate remote sensing information about the surface. And with an atmospheric pressure 90 times higher than our own, and an average surface temperature of 464 degrees celcius, no surface probe has survived more than an hour.