Venus Probe Reveals Hints of Earth's Past

THE Magellan space probe's unprecedented exploration of Venus has revealed a wracked and wretched planet that may provide a glimpse into Earth's past and possible future, officials said. NASA released six new images of Venus created by Magellan's advanced radar mapping system and a dramatic, two-minute computer-generated color video that takes viewers zooming over part of the planet's previously shrouded surface at 200,000 m.p.h.

The stunning images show a ruptured surface riddled with craters, punctuated by towering volanoes, scarred by massive rifts and valleys, and dotted with strange lava formations resembling giant pancakes and even a huge squashed insect.

``The results have been spectacular,'' said Wesley Huntress Jr. at a news conference Wednesday at NASA headquarters to formally announce the completion of the first and primary phase of Magellan's mission.

``Magellan has removed the veil from planet Venus and now we've been able to see entirely through Venus's perpetual cloud cover, revealing a fascinating planet more different from her twin than any of us would have imagined,'' he said.

By learning more about Venus, scientists hope to gain a better understanding of Earth's past because the geological processes on both planets should be similar.

Venus could also offer a peek at Earth's future because while the planets are similar in size and mass, Venus has surface temperatures hot enough to melt lead and pressures comparable to those found 3,000 feet under the ocean.

The $450 million craft, which costs about $43 million a year to operate, has already begun the second phase of its mission, which will include completing a full map of the planet and viewing previously seen features in more detail and different angles.

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