Venus

Venus

Venus, the second planet from the Sun, is an extreme place - hot and dry with surface pressures over 90 times higher than the Earth's and a super thick atmosphere mainly composed of carbon dioxide.

Because the surface is hidden by sulphuric acid clouds, and the planet is similar to the Earth in size, astronomers speculated for many years that Venus might be a lush world full of life.

It is now thought possible that the Sun's heat boiled away early oceans on the planet triggering a planet-warming runaway greenhouse effect that turned Venus into a hellish place.

Photo: A false-colour view of Venus taken by the Galileo probe. This photo was coloured blue to show details in Venus's clouds. (NASA/JPL)

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Venus

About Venus

The second planet from the Sun is a pressure cooker.

About Venus

Venus is the second planet from the Sun, orbiting it every 224.7 Earth days. It has no natural satellite. It is named after the Roman goddess of love and beauty. After the Moon, it is the brightest natural object in the night sky, reaching an apparent magnitude of −4.6, bright enough to cast shadows. Because Venus is an inferior planet from Earth, it never appears to venture far from the Sun: its elongation reaches a maximum of 47.8°.

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. It is radically different from Earth in other respects. It has the densest atmosphere of the four terrestrial planets, consisting of more than 96% carbon dioxide. The atmospheric pressure at the planet's surface is 92 times that of Earth. 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 is shrouded by an opaque layer of highly reflective clouds of sulfuric acid, preventing its surface from being seen from space in visible light. It may have had oceans in the past, but these would have vaporised as the temperature rose due to a runaway greenhouse effect. The water has most probably photodissociated, and, because of the lack of a planetary magnetic field, the free hydrogen has been swept into interplanetary space by the solar wind. Venus's surface is a dry desertscape interspersed with slab-like rocks and periodically resurfaced by volcanism.

As one of the brightest objects in the sky, Venus has been a major fixture in human culture for as long as records have existed. It has been made sacred to gods of many cultures, and, as the "morning star" and "evening star", has been a prime inspiration for writers and poets. Venus was the first planet to have its motions across the sky plotted, as early as the second millennium BC, and, as the closest planet to Earth, was a prime target for early interplanetary exploration. It was the first planet beyond Earth visited by a spacecraft (Mariner 2) in 1962, and the first to be successfully landed on (by Venera 7) in 1970. Venus's thick clouds render observation of its surface impossible in visible light, and the first detailed maps did not emerge until the arrival of the Magellan orbiter in 1991. Plans have been proposed for rovers or more complex missions, but they are hindered by Venus's hostile surface conditions.

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