On March 1, 1982, the landing vehicle of the Soviet Union’s Venera 13 spacecraft landed on Venus and became the first spacecraft to record sounds on another planet.

March 1 story of what happened this day in Science, Technology, Astronomy, and Space Exploration history.

Venera 13

Venera 13 and 14 were two identical spacecraft built to take advantage of the 1981 Venus launch opportunity. Venera 13 was launched on October 30, 1981, while its twin launched on November 4.

Venera 13 mockup
A mockup of the Venera 13 spacecraft is displayed at the Cosmos Pavilion of the Exhibition of the Achievements of the National Economy in Moscow, Russia. The lander module in the foreground would sit inside the brown sphere atop the Venera spacecraft (in the background). Image: NASA. Photograph by J. Kelly Beatty Sky & Telescope

On March 1, 1982, after a four-month cruise to Venus, the descent vehicle of Venera 13 detached from the cruise stage and descended into the Venusian atmosphere. Upon entry, a parachute was deployed to aid in the descent, which detached approximately 50 kilometers (31 miles) above the surface. The final descent was accomplished using simple air-braking techniques.

It landed at around 7-8 meters per second (23-26 feet per second) at 7.5°S 303°E, just east of the eastern extension of an elevated region known as Phoebe Regio, about 950 km (590 miles) northeast of where its twin, Venera 14 would land several days later.

The photo below is the Venus surface captured by Venera 13. The desolate landscape it saw included flat rocks, vast empty terrain, and a featureless sky above Phoebe Regio near Venus’ equator.

On the lower left is the spacecraft’s penetrometer used to make scientific measurements, while the light piece on the right is part of an ejected lens cap. Enduring temperatures near 450 degrees Celsius (842 degrees Fahrenheit) and pressures 75 times that on Earth, the hardened Venera spacecraft lasted only about two hours.

Although data from Venera 13 was beamed across the inner Solar System almost 40 years ago, digital processing and merging of Venera’s unusual images continues even today.

Photo of the surface of Venus taken by the Venera 13 lander. The first spacecraft to record sounds on another planet.
The photo of Venus’ surface captured by Soviet Union’s Venera 13. The space probe also became the first spacecraft to record sounds on another planet. Image: NASA

The lander, which was intended to operate for approximately 32 minutes, exceeded its design limitations and remained operational for at least 127 minutes in extremely harsh conditions. With temperatures reaching 457°C (855°F) and pressures of 9.0 MPa (89 standard atmospheres), the lander successfully transmitted data to the satellite as it passed by Venus, serving as a data relay.

Venera 13 becomes the first spacecraft to record sounds on another planet

To measure the speed of surface winds on Venus, the probe utilized microphones to record atmospheric wind noises, as well as sounds associated with its equipment. This recording marked the first instance of sound being captured on a planet other than Earth. Subsequently, Venera 14 also recorded similar sound recordings.

Unfortunately, the fate of the Venera 13 sound recordings is not entirely clear. While the Venera 13 lander did successfully capture sound recordings during its descent onto the surface of Venus, there are conflicting reports regarding whether the data was successfully transmitted back to Earth.

Some sources suggest that the data was transmitted and analyzed, while others indicate that technical issues prevented the recordings from being recovered. Nonetheless, the Venera 13 mission was a significant milestone in the history of space exploration, and its contributions to our understanding of Venus have been invaluable.

March 1 in Science, Technology, Astronomy, and Space Exploration history


M. Özgür Nevres
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