Venus- the bright evening-star

During the winter nights in Lapland there is one star shining brighter than the others. The Venus star is the second planet from the Sun; Mercury is nearer to the Sun. It is named after the Roman goddess of love and beauty. After the Moon it is the brightest natural object in the night sky. In Lapland you can see it during the clear nights in the west after the sunset. It is often called the “evening star”. Venus is always brighter than any star (apart from the Sun). The planet is bright enough to be seen in a mid-day clear sky, and it can easily be seen when the Sun is low on the horizon. Venus, like the other planets, has no shine of itself. The Sun provides the shine.
This photo I have taken after sun set in the west. It was a clear night with millions of stars, but one was shining brighter than the others…

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Venus is a terrestrial planet and is sometimes called Earth’s “sister planet” because of their similar size, mass, proximity to the Sun and bulk composition. The atmospheric pressure at the planet’s surface is 92 times that of Earth’s. With a mean surface temperature of 735 K (462 °C; 863 °F), Venus is by far the hottest planet in the Solar System, even though Mercury is closer to the Sun. Venus’ surface is a dry desertscape interspersed with slab-like rocks and periodically refreshed by volcanism.
Venus “overtakes” Earth every 584 days as it orbits the Sun. As it does so, it changes from the “Evening Star”, visible after sunset in the west, to the “Morning Star”, visible before sunrise in the east. Venus is hard to miss when it is at its brightest. Its greater maximum elongation means it is visible in dark skies long after sunset. As the brightest point-like object in the sky, Venus is a commonly misreported “unidentified flying object”. U.S. President Jimmy Carter reported having seen a UFO in 1969, which later analysis suggested was probably Venus. Countless other people have mistaken Venus for something more exotic.

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There has been a great interest in exploring Venus from both the Soviet Union’s and the United States’ side and they have launched several robots to go to Venus. Some have crashed already on their way and some have crashed on the surface of Venus. But due to the big amount of robots sent to Venus there has been results about temperature and surface construction. All results have proven that on Venus there could not be any life, like on Earth, because of the enormous heat on the surface.
Here is a description of some of the first robots sent to Venus. The program has continued still in 1990:ies.
The first robotic space probe mission to Venus, and the first to any planet, began on 12 February 1961, with the launch of the Soviet Union’s Venera 1 probe. The first craft of the otherwise highly successful Soviet Venera program, Venera 1 was launched on a direct impact trajectory, but contact was lost seven days into the mission, when the probe was about 2 million km from Earth. It was estimated to have passed within 100,000 km of Venus in mid-May.

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The United States exploration of Venus also started badly with the loss of the Mariner 1 probe on launch. The subsequent Mariner 2 mission, after a 109-day transfer orbit on 14 December 1962, became the world’s first successful interplanetary mission, passing 34,833 km above the surface of Venus. Its microwave and infrared radiometers revealed that although the Venusian cloud tops were cool, the surface was extremely hot—at least 425 °C, confirming earlier Earth-based measurements and finally ending any hopes that the planet might harbor ground-based life.

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The Soviet Venera 3 probe crash-landed on Venus on 1 March 1966. It was the first man-made object to enter the atmosphere and strike the surface of another planet. Its communication system failed before it was able to return any planetary data. On 18 October 1967, Venera 4 successfully entered the atmosphere and deployed science experiments. Venera 4 showed the surface temperature was even hotter than Mariner 2 had measured, at almost 500 °C, and the atmosphere was 90 to 95% carbon dioxide.
One day later on 19 October 1967, Mariner 5 conducted a fly-by at a distance of less than 4000 km above the cloud tops.
Armed with the lessons and data learned from Venera 4, the Soviet Union launched the twin probes Venera 5 and Venera 6 five days apart in January 1969; they encountered Venus a day apart on 16 and 17 May. The probes were strengthened to improve their crush depth to 25 bar and were equipped with smaller parachutes to achieve a faster descent. Because then-current atmospheric models of Venus suggested a surface pressure of between 75 and 100 bar, neither was expected to survive to the surface. After returning atmospheric data for a little over 50 minutes, they were both crushed at altitudes of about 20 km before going on to strike the surface on the night side of Venus.

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Polar Bears in Ranua Wildlife Park

It is very rare for polar bears to give birth when they are in captivity, away from their natural freedom. The first polar bear cub ever surviving its birth in Finland was the greatest Christmas present in 2011 for the Ranua Wildlife Park, situated about 90 km south from Rovaniemi. Early in the morning on November 18th, 2011, the polar bear Venus gave birth to two tiny polar bear cubs. In the year 2009 the polar bears Venus and Manasse had a polar bear cub, too, who eventually died after a few days. But this time the cub survived and is now as a one year old polar bear one of the biggest attractions at Ranua zoo and his birth definitively was an enormous success for the wildlife park with a great increase in the number of visitors.

The first 24 hours after the birth are the most critical: one-third of the cubs die during this period. Half of the cubs die before they reach the age of five days, and after a month, only 40% of the cubs born are still surviving. In the earlier times, perhaps the greatest reason for the weakened reproduction for polar bears at various wildlife parks has been the amount of outer stimulus disturbing the mother polar bear, this disturbance eventually could cause the mother to abandon its cub or even kill the cub. At the Ranua Wildlife Park, therefore, they made early protection improvements in the polar bear den and the  surroundings to offer peace for Venus to give birth to her cubs. During the time of the pregnancy and also after the cub was born, they followed the progress through microphone recordings and surveillance video cameras installed in the den.

On February 23rd, 2012, the park decided to open the door to the den and let the polar bear mother and her cub out in the snowy world of their fence. The mother bear Venus had started to move around anxiously in the den as a sign that she probably would need some nutrition. She had not had anything to eat for nearly three months. A lot of journalists were attending this remarkable happening when the door was opened. First the mother bear came out and had a look at the weather outside and tested how secure it would be for the cub to enter, too. After a while even the little cub very carefully looked out from between the fore legs of the mother. At this time the park could announce that the cub was a male bear. His weight as this time was around 10 kg.

I went to Ranua zoo in March to try to get a glimpse of the cub. I was lucky, because I got the chance to see him. The mother and her cub very seldom came out from the den and not at any predictable time. The fence is very big and the visitors never got near the cub when he was only a few months old. Later on he started to move around in the fence and they were eventually even moved to another, bigger fence. The picture I captured in March 2012 shows the mother standing outside the den and the cub is to the right of her. Not a good photo, I admit, but better than nothing…

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There was a name competition arranged to find a suitable name for the little newborn cub. Around 10,000 suggestions were given and on September 3rd, 2012, as the result of the very careful and difficult elimination of the suggestions done by the jury consisting of the Ranua Wildlife Park staff, the name Ranzo was elected as the name for the very unique polar bear cub in Finland. The jury wanted the name to be suggestive of the birth-place of the cub, (the Wildlife Park of Ranua, Ranua Zoo) and, at the same time, the name needed to be internationally ”easy” as well.

The next time I visited the Ranua zoo was in October 2012 and Ranzo was already a “big” boy, around 80 kg. Both the mother and the cub were sleeping as I arrived, but after a while Ranzo started to wake up and strolled over to his mother to have some milk from his mother. The mother bear was still breast feeding the cub and right out there in the sun shine in front of some visitors.

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After the meal Ranzo started to play around with the ice flakes on the little lake they have in their fence. They use to go swimming a lot, but at the time I was there they stayed on the shore and Ranzo was running around to find interesting things to play with. The staff of Ranua zoo provides the bears with different play toys, so he usually does not have any problems to find anything to do.

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I have visited the Ranua wildlife park several times during the seven winters I have been in Lapland, and before Ranzo was born Venus used to play around together with her sister Vanessa in the pool to amuse the visitors. The two of them always enjoyed the audience to looked up at them as they threw around balls in the pool. Vanessa was moved to another zoo somewhere in Europe as Venus had her cub, because there are not enough fences to keep all of them The father Manasse is also living in his own fence in the zoo. He is not allowed to be with the mother and the cub, because a male polar bear does not have “fatherly” feelings and he could be dangerous to the cub and even kill it. In a couple of years there are plans to let Venus and Manasse have a try for more cubs, but at the moment Ranzo can enjoy the company of his mother Venus. Ranua wildlife park keeps a blog on happenings in the park, but mostly only in Finnish. Check it out here.

These photos are of Venus and Vanessa playing in spring 2008. IMG_4114IMG_1898

In Ranua Wildlife Park there are also a lot of other arctic animals. I will tell you more about them later on. Ranua Wildlife Park offers tourists and nearby inhabitants the opportunity to see arctic animals throughout the year, in an as authentic environment for the animals as possible. The Park is open every day of the year, and the changing seasons do bring their own extra dimension to the life in the park. During winter the brown bears are sleeping, of course, but there are a lot of animals active in winter time. Often they are even more active during the winter because the heat in the summer makes them slow and sleepy during the visitors’ hours. Check out the home page of the wildlife park for the special feeding times.

The park animals consist of about 50 wild animal species and 200 individuals. In the summer, there is also a domestic animal park in the park grounds.