Top of page

A detail of the planet Venus from an 18th century map.
Detail from Mappe-monde, ou carte générale de la terre : divisée en deux hémisphéres suivant la projéction la plus commune ou tous les points principaux sont placez sur les observations de mesrs. de l'Academie roïale des sciences. Nicolas de Fer. 1754. Geography and Map Division.

From Cassini to Magellan: Unveiling the Topography of Venus

Share this post:

Venus, one of the brightest planets in the night sky, was observed by people throughout history. The planet was given various names by ancient astronomers. In this post I am sharing maps of Venus dated from the 1700s to the early 1990s.

Giovanni Domenico Cassini, an astronomer and topographer, observed the planets in our solar system from the mid 1600s until his death in 1712. He played a crucial role in the establishment of the Paris Observatory in 1671. Featured above is an illustration from an atlas that was published in 1754 by Nicolas de Fer. The illustration shows an image of Venus based on Cassini’s observations.

Below are maps of Venus, Jupiter and Mars, also based on observations by Cassini. The maps are from an atlas published by the British Cartographer and Hydrographer to the King, John Seller.

An image of the planets Venus, Jupiter and Mars.
A plate from Atlas terrestris, or, a book of mapps, of all the empires, monarchies, kingdoms, regions, dominions, principalities, and countreys in the whole world : accomodated with a brief description of the nature and quality of each perticular countrey. John Seller. 1700. Geography and Map Division.

The transit of Venus occurs when the planet is positioned between the earth and the sun. During the transit, Venus appears as a tiny dot against the backdrop of the sun.  This event happens once every 243 years, with a pair of transits occurring eight years apart. The first recorded observation of the transit of Venus was made in 1639 by the British astronomers Jeremiah Horrocks and William Crabtree. The following diagram of the earth shows the transit of Venus as it happened in 1639.

An image of a map showing the first recorded transit of Venus in 1639.
A map from Transits of Venus. A popular account of past and coming transits, from the first observed by Horrocks A.D. 1639 to the transit of A.D. 2012. Richard A. Proctor. 1875. General Collections.

During the 1800s and early 1900s astronomers developed various theories about the atmosphere and surface of Venus. Some scientists believed that the planet could support life. The diagrams featured below are from an early 20th century book that explores the possibility of life on Venus.

Diagrams from an early 20th century book showing views of Venus.
Plate I from Is Venus inhabited? C. E. Housden. 1915. General Collections.
A map showing a section of Venus.
Plate II from Is Venus inhabited? C. E. Housden. 1915. General Collections.

In 1961 scientists used Earth-based radar to observe Venus. Since that time successful missions to Venus have been carried out by the space programs of the United States, the Soviet Union, Japan, and the European Space Agency. The orbiter Magellan was launched by NASA in May 1989. The goal of the Magellan mission was to map the entire surface of Venus. The successful mission covered 98% of the planet’s surface. The mission lasted from May 4, 1989 to October 13, 1994 and consisted of six mapping cycles. The planning chart below was prepared for cycle three by Shannon McConnell, a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab.

A planning chart of the Magellan mission to Venus.
Magellan mapping mission planning chart : [Venus]. Shannon McConnell. 1991. Geography and Map Division.
Pictured below is an image of the transparent overlay that accompanies the chart.

Diagrams from an early 20th century book showing views of Venus.
An image of the transparent overlay that was used with the Magellan Mission Planning Chart: [Venus}. Shannon McConnell. 1991. Geography and Map Division.
The following topographic maps of Venus were published during the early 1990s by the United States Geological Survey. Radar imagery was used by scientists at U.S.G.S. to produce a series of  maps of Venus. Places named after the goddesses Ishtar, Aphrodite, and Lakshmi are shown on the maps. The mountain Maxwell Montes is also shown. Maxwell Montes was named after James Clerk Maxwell, a Scottish mathematical physicist.

A topographic map showng the surface of Venus.
Topographic map of Venus. United States Geological Survey. 1990. Geography and Map Division.
A detail of a topographic map of Venus.
Detail from Planetary maps : maps to help you find your way around on the Moon and Mars and on some of Earth’s neighboring planets and their satellites. United States Geological Survey. 1992. Geography and Map Division.

Scientists have discovered that the average temperature of Venus is 867 degrees Fahrenheit, the surface is covered with volcanic landforms, and that water once existed on the planet. Learn more about Venus  by watching the following videos sponsored by the Science, Technology, and Business Division of the Library of Congress.

Discover More:

Venus: the Forgotten, Mysterious Planet by Dr. Lori Glaze, NASA.

The Transit of Venus by Dr. Sten Odenwald, NASA.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *