Venus: Lower Atmosphere Not Measured

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Science  08 Nov 1968:
Vol. 162, Issue 3854, pp. 661-665
DOI: 10.1126/science.162.3854.661


The common ranges of pressure and temperature of the atmosphere of Venus measured last October establish the connection between the Soviet Venera 4 altitude scale and the United States Mariner V radial scale. But if the Venera 4 measurements extended to the surface, as claimed, this comparison implies a radius of the planet which is about 25 kilometers greater than the radius deduced from Earth-based radar data. This impasse has been resolved in favor of the smaller value by a new determination of the radius which is more direct than the method used in deriving the radar radius, and which involves concurrent ranging from Earth both to Mariner V near encounter and to the surface of Venus. It is concluded that neither spacecraft reported on atmospheric conditions near the level of the mean surface, but extrapolations of the measurements yield surface values for mid-latitudes of 100 atmospheres pressure (within a factor of 1.5) and 700°K temperature (within 100°), in distinction to the Soviet values of 19±2 atmospheres and 544°±10°K. The higher values support radiometric and radar data on temperature and atmospheric absorption. It appears that the Soviet probe was not designed to work through such a thick atmosphere. A particularly simple (times two) ambiguity in the Venera 4 altimeter reading suggests itself, since this would bring all other data into excellent agreement and would explain the reason for the supposition that the probe reached the surface.

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