Venus: Maxwell Montes
David P. Anderson
Southern Methodist University
This picture of Maxwell Montes first appeared in the December 1993 issue of Discover
Magazine. These are the tallest mountains in the solar system, over 11 kilometers from
the plain to the highest peak. This image was created from altimetry and radar data returned
by the NASA Magellan mission to Venus. It is unique among the computer rendered 3-D images
of Venus in that it uses no vertical exaggeration. That is, the mountain heights have not
been exaggerated to make the features more pronounced and easier to distinguish. The view of
Maxwell is rendered from a point 35,000 feet above the highest peak, about the perspective one
might see out the window of an airplane flying over the Venus surface.
The surface detail was created in the Southern Methodist University Geophysical Imaging Laboratory
using a technique developed at SMU for retrieving fine-scale topographic features from radar
reflectivity. The color scheme is derived from the radar patterns and basaltic composition
of the rocks. The clouds are computer generated to give a sense of size and depth to this
enormous mountain range. The purple-ish haze was rendered in order to suggest the 900 degree
temperatures common on the surface of Venus.
This image is now featured at the Smithsonian Museum permanent display of the Solar
System on the National Mall in Washington DC.