What Space Data Looked Like in 1962

More

Fifty years ago, we recorded the learnings of our space explorers with paper scrolls.

[optional image description]
(NASA/JPL)

Throughout most of human history, humans knew Venus as "the brightest star in the sky." Fifty years ago, however -- December 14, 1962 -- humanity got to know our neighbor planet in a wonderfully new way: up close and personal. On that day, NASA's Mariner 2 spacecraft sailed by Venus, at a range of 21,600 miles, scanning its atmosphere and surface for a full 42 minutes. It was the first time any spacecraft had ever successfully made a close-up study of another planet. 

The result, here on Earth, was data. Much, much data. Data that disproved, among other things, a popular theory: that Venus was, as a planet, very much like Earth. Mariner 2's readings showed instead that the surface temperature on Venus was a very un-balmy 797°F on both the day and night sides -- hot enough to melt lead. They also demonstrated that Venus rotates in the opposite direction from most other planets in our solar system; that it has an atmosphere composed mostly of carbon dioxide, with very high pressure at its surface; that it features a continuous cloud cover; and that it has no detectable magnetic field. Mariner 2 also discovered new information about interplanetary space -- learning that, among other things, the solar wind streams continuously, and that the density of cosmic dust between planets is much lower than it is near Earth.

So what did all that information look like, actually? There's the billboard of data, for one thing -- painted on, apparently and tellingly, wood -- in the image above. But there's also that unfurled scroll of paper -- a paper towel roll, essentially, full of information about our neighbor planet. Which brings us, finally, to this -- the larger image of the shot above:

venus_data-browse.jpeg

Jump to comments
Presented by

Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

A Delightful, Pixar-Inspired Cartoon About the Toys in Your Cereal Box

The story of an action figure and his reluctant sidekick, who trek across a kitchen in search of treasure.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Juice Cleanses: The Worst Diet

A doctor tries the ever-popular Master Cleanse. Sort of.

Video

Why Did I Study Physics?

Using hand-drawn cartoons to explain an academic passion

Video

What If Emoji Lived Among Us?

A whimsical ad imagines what life would be like if emoji were real.

Video

Living Alone on a Sailboat

"If you think I'm a dirtbag, then you don't understand the lifestyle."

Feature

The Future of Iced Coffee

Are artisan businesses like Blue Bottle doomed to fail when they go mainstream?

Writers

Up
Down

More in Technology

Just In