This is not what Venus actually looks like. This hemispheric image was created by combining more than ten years of radar investigations into one and centering them over the planet's North Pole, which is seen as the large blue patch in the middle. Most of the data displayed here is from the 1990-1994 Magellan mission.

"The Magellan spacecraft imaged more than 98 percent of the planet Venue and a mosaic of the Magellan images (most with illumination from the west) forms the image base," NASA explained. "Gaps in the Magellan coverage were filled with images from the Earth-based Arecibo radar in a region centered roughly on 0 degree latitude and longitude, and with a neutral tone elsewhere (primarily near the south pole)."

After all of the data was compiled and mapped out, this composite image went through another round of processing. Meant to improve the contrast and emphasize the smallest features that would otherwise go unnoticed, NASA color-coded the image to represent elevation. Where there were gaps in the elevation data collected by Magellan's radar altimeter, NASA relied on altimetry from the Pioneer Venus missions and the Venera spacecraft.

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Image: NASA.