Venus Facts

Named after the Roman Godess of beauty and love, Venus is the second planet from the Sun. It is the hottest planet in the Solar System. Just like the Mercury, Venus also does not have a satellite. Venus is the second-brightest heavenly body in the night sky after our own Moon.

Venus Profile

Interesting Venus Facts

  • It is the second closest planet to the sun after Mercury. It is 108.2 million kilometers away from the sun.
  • It is the second brightest object in the sky. The first is the moon.
  • Venus has been named after the Roman Goddess of love and beauty.
  • Along with Mercury, it is one of the only two planets without any moons i.e. natural satellites.
  • It does not have any rings.
  • The period of revolution of Venus is 224.7 or approximately 225 days on the Earth.
  • Venus rotates in the opposite direction to all the other planets i.e. clockwise (east to west). Uranus also exhibits the same behavior.
  • Venus is also called Morning star and Evening star.
  • It is the hottest planet in the solar system.
  • It has a radius of about 6052 kilometers.
  • It is quite similar to the Earth in terms of mass, size, and proximity to the sun and is sometimes referred to as Earth’s ‘sister planet’ or ‘twin planet’.
  • It is the closest planet to the Earth.
  • Venus was the first planet, other than the Earth, to have been explored by human beings.
  • Venus is the only planet to have been named after a female figure.
  • Venus is the closest planet to the Earth.
  • The surface of Venus is hot enough to melt lead.
  • Venus is 108.2 million kilometers away from the sun. The light from the sun takes about 6 minutes to reach Venus unlike Earth, where it takes 8 minutes.

History

Venus was formed about 4.5 million years ago due to the dust and gas being pulled together by gravity. Venus is named after the Roman Goddess of love and beauty. The reason behind this could be its immense brightness.

Humans have known about Venus since pre-historic times. This is because other than the sun and the moon, Venus is the brightest object in the sky. Just like Mercury, Venus was also believed to have been two separate objects i.e. the morning star and the evening star.

This belief was mainly found to be among Ancient Egyptians and Greeks as well. The mathematician Pythagoras actually discovered that the morning and evening stars are the same i.e. Venus. Hence, the credit for the discovery of Venus often goes to him.

However, it is also believed by some that the ancient Sumerians recognized Venus as a single object. Galileo Galilei observed that like the moon, Venus also goes through phases like gibbous, crescent, etc.

This was an important piece of evidence in proving that Venus goes around the sun and not the Earth which is what most people believed. Mayan astronomers are known to have observed Venus in detail since as early as 650 AD. In ancient times, Venus was also called ‘Lucifer’ which means ‘light-bringer’.

Appearance

Venus is very bright due to the reflection of sunlight and is hence one of the brightest objects in the night sky. However, its rocks on the surface are of different shades of grey. It has a visible pale yellowish color due to the thick and gaseous clouds surrounding it.

These clouds also filter the sunlight making the planet look bright orange if one was standing on its surface. Venus overtakes the Earth once every 584 days while revolving around the sun. Transits of Venus appear in cycles of 243 years.

In the current pattern, transits of Venus appear in pairs which are separated by a gap of 8 years every 105 to 121 years. The next transit of Venus will occur in December 2117 and December 2125 which is about a hundred years from now.

Size

As mentioned before, Venus is quite similar to the Earth when it comes to size, mass, distance from the sun and even gravity. The difference in the diameters of the Earth and Venus is only about 638 km. Venus has about 81.5% of the Earth’s mass.

It is the hottest planet in the solar system despite the fact that it is not the closest to the sun. This is because Venus has a thick and dense atmosphere that traps heat and displays a phenomenon similar to the greenhouse effect on the Earth. The temperature on Venus can reach up to 465 °C i.e. 870 °F.

Surface

Venus is one of the four terrestrial planets, the others being Mercury, Earth, and Mars. It has a central core, a mantle, and a solid crust. Its iron core has a radius of about 3200 km. The mantle above it mostly consists of hot rocks with its thin, moving crust on top.

The movement of the crust due to the shifting of the mantle creates volcanoes on the surface of the planet. Venus contains several mountains, valleys, and volcanoes, the volcanoes being tens of thousands in number.

However, only about 1600 of them are known to astronomers. Some volcanoes on Venus are still active today with lava flowing around 5000 km long. This is longer than any other planets in the solar system.

There are six mountainous on Venus. These makeup about one-third of the planet’s surface. The highest mountain on Venus is Maxwell Montes which is more than 20,000 ft or 8.8 km high. Maxwell Montes is similar to Mount Everest on Earth. The surface of Venus is very dry, mostly because of evaporation taking place due to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Hence, there is no water on the surface of Venus. The surface of Venus is believed to be 300-400 million years old.

Composition

Venus is very similar to Earth in many aspects. Just like other terrestrial planets, its interior is made of three layers: a crust, a mantle, and a core.

Venus’s core is approximately 3200 kilometers in diameter. Covering the core is the mantle composed of hot rock which is 3000 kilometers thick. After that, the outer most layer of the Venus called crust is 50 kilometers thick.

Since Venus is the hottest planet it’s very difficult to find the exact composition so it’s still a mystery if its core is solid or liquid. There is a theory that since Venus’s magnetic field is so weak as compared to Earth, it’s core must be solid.

In Earth’s case, the flowing liquid metal in the outer core causes convection currents. Coupled with the rotation of Earth on its axis, electric currents form a magnetic field that covers the planet Earth.

Magnetic Field

Venus does not have a magnetic field. It is not clearly known why but some of the possible reasons could be the need for core convection. Core convection is required to generate a global magnetic field. It is achieved by the extraction of heat from the core to the mantle. This does not take place on Venus due to the lack of plate tectonism in order to carry the heat. Thus, the magnetic field is absent on the planet.

Orbit & Rotation

It has a period of revolution of about 225 Earth days and a period of rotation of 243 Earth days. This means that a day on Venus lasts longer than a year. Venus has the longest period of rotation of all the planets in the solar system.

Venus is also one of the only two planets in the solar system along with Uranus to revolve around the sun clockwise unlike all the other planets that revolve anticlockwise. This would mean that on Venus, the sun would rise in the west and set in the east for an observer on the surface. However, Venus’ clouds are opaque, and the sun cannot be observed from its surface.

The approximate orbital speed of Venus is 35.02 km/s. Venus rotates at the speed of only about 4.05 mph while Earth rotates at the speed of about 1037.6mph. It has an axial tilt of about 3°. This means that Venus spins almost upright and hence experiences no noticeable seasonal variations.

Atmosphere

Venus has an extremely dense and thick atmosphere that mostly consists of carbon dioxide and droplets of sulphuric acid. Carbon dioxide makes up more than 96% of Venus’ atmosphere and nitrogen covers about 3.5%. Scientists have detected trace amounts of water in its atmosphere.

It rains sulphuric acid on Venus. However, the rain never reaches the surface of the planet because it is that hot. The atmospheric pressure on the surface of Venus is more than 92 times that of the Earth.

The thick atmosphere of Venus shows an effect similar to the greenhouse effect on Earth and is mostly responsible for the high temperatures on Venus.

Venus has a magnetic field. Despite its similarities with Earth in terms of size and mass, Venus is known to have a very weak magnetic field as compared to that of the Earth. This is because of its slow speed of rotation. Winds have been observed on the surface of Venus which can flow as fast as 450 miles an hour or about 724 km an hour. These are faster than the fastest tornado on Earth.

Recently, a hole has been discovered in the ionosphere of Venus. It was discovered by the Pioneer Venus Orbiter. No density is experienced by this region. There have been no sightings of this region in the past and its cause is still not perfectly known.

Moons

Venus is one of the only two planets along with Mercury to have no moons. This is because they are so close to the sun that the gravity of the sun will overpower the gravity of the planets. As a result, the moon would either start revolving around the sun or collapse into it.

Exploration of Venus

Venus is a difficult planet to observe because of its temperatures. As it is very hot, spacecraft cannot go much near to its surface without getting destroyed. No human being has ever visited Venus. However, various space probes and spacecraft have been sent to Venus.

Around 50 attempts of sending spacecraft to Venus have been made out of which at least 38 have been partially or totally successful. Mariner 2 was the first spacecraft to successfully fly by Venus.

This mission was accomplished in 1962. The Soviet Union’s Venera series was the first to land on the surface of Venus in 1970. In 1978, America sent two spacecraft to the planet namely the Pioneer Venus Orbiter and the Pioneer Venus Multi-Probe.

The former orbited around the planet while the latter deployed four probes to investigate the atmosphere of the planet.

Another mission for the exploration of Venus was NASA’s Magellan. In 1985, the twin Vega spacecraft each deployed an atmospheric balloon and a surface lander on the planet.

Magellan: Mission to Venus

It studied Venus for almost four years from 1990 to 1994. It was launched in the year 1989. It was successful in mapping more than 98% of the surface of Venus.

Currently, Akatsuki by Japan is studying Venus from the orbit. The European Venus Express mission, which was launched in 2005, still continues to orbit the planet.

Potential for Life

Venus has never been visited by any humans. The space crafts sent to Venus also do not last very long as the high temperatures overheat electronics in a very short duration of time. Hence, it is quite unlikely that a human should be able to survive on Venus.

Despite the fact that scientists believe life may have existed on Venus a long time ago, there is no clear evidence of life ever existing on the planet and according to the present condition, the chances of finding life on Venus in the future as well are very bleak.

Venus in Pop Culture

Venus’ impregnable clouds gave ideas and inspiration to many science fiction writers and were included in their stories, most popularly in the 1930s and 1950s. As science wasn’t advanced at that time, scientists believed that Venus was warmer than Earth but was still habitable.

Today, it is often used for the representation of women and linked with feminism. The most popular book with Venus in its title is ‘Women are from Venus, Men are from Mars’. Venus has also become the setting for several video games like Transhuman Space, Battlezone and Destiny. 

Timeline of Venus Exploration

  1. 1962: NASA’s Mariner 2 became the first spacecraft to successfully fly by Venus and confirmed details such as temperature, pressure, atmosphere, and rotation.
  2. 1967: Soviet Union’s Venera 4 became the first spacecraft to survive on the surface of another planet. It survived on the surface of Venus for two hours.
  3. 1967: NASA’S Mariner 5 successfully flew by Venus and sent back data and observations about UV radiations and magnetic fields on Venus.
  4. 1969-1985: Spacecrafts of the Soviet Union’s Venera series detected the presence of nitrogen and oxygen on Venus, confirmed the planet’s surface temperature as 475 °C and measured surface pressure as around 90 bars. Venera 9 and Venera 10 became the first space crafts to orbit around Venus. Other spacecraft in the series successfully detected lighting and thunder, measured wind speeds, sent the first colored pictures of the planet and analyzed the atmosphere.
  5. 1990-1994: NASA’s Magellan mapped around 98% of the surface of the planet.
  6. 2005-present: Venus Express, the ESA’s first mission to Venus continues to orbit around the planet.
  7. 2006-2007: NASA’s MESSENGER flew by Venus before going to Mercury, its actual destination.

Timeline of Important Observations Regarding Venus

  1. 2.5 Billion BC: Venus is formed by the union of dust and gas due to gravity.
  2. 1610: Galileo Galilei observed the different phases of Venus.
  3. 1639: Transit of Venus is observed for the first time.
  4. 1961: Rotation of Venus is measured.
  5. 1970: Venera 7 lands on the surface of Venus.
  6. 1990: Magellan mappings most of Venus.

References

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