Interesting Facts About Venus

by Fraser Cain on May 5, 2008

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Here are 10 facts about Venus. Some you might know, others should be totally new to you. So read on and learn these interesting facts about planet Venus.

1. Venus really is the Earth’s twin.
Well, perhaps you could consider it the Earth’s evil twin. Earth and Venus have very similar size and mass, and they orbit the Sun close to the Sun in very similar orbits. The size of Venus is only 650 km less than the size of Earth, and the mass of Venus is 81.5% the mass of the Earth.

But that’s where the similarities end. The atmosphere of Venus is 96.5% carbon dioxide, with a runaway greenhouse effect that raises temperatures to 461° C. The intense pressure would crush you if you tried to walk on the surface of the planet.

2. Venus can be so bright it casts shadows
Astronomers measure the brightness of objects in the night sky by their magnitude. Only the Sun and the Moon are brighter than Venus. Its brightness can range between -3.8 to -4.6 magnitude, but it’s always brighter than the brightest stars in the sky.

It can be so bright that it actually casts shadows. Find a dark night, when the Moon isn’t in the sky, and check it out for yourself.

3. The atmosphere is very hostile
As we said earlier above, Venus is like the Earth’s evil twin. Although it’s similar in size and mass to the Earth, the atmosphere of Venus sets it apart. The mass of the atmosphere is 93 times that of the Earth’s atmosphere. If you could stand on the surface of Venus, you would experience 92 times the pressure you have on Earth. This is the same as going nearly a kilometer underneath the surface of the ocean.

And if the pressure doesn’t kill you, the heat and toxic chemicals certainly will. Temperatures on Venus can rise to 460° C. And there are thick clouds of sulfur dioxide on Venus that rain down sulfuric acid. It really is a hellish place to be.

4. Venus rotates backwards compared to the other planets
Venus rotates very slowly. While a day on Earth takes just 24 hours to complete, a day on Venus is 243 of our Earth days. Even stranger, Venus rotates backwards compared to all the other planets in the Solar System. If you could fly up above the Solar System and then look down at the planets, all of them are turning in a counter-clockwise direction. Except Venus. It’s rotating in a clockwise direction.

5. Many probes have landed on the surface of Venus
For such a hellish world, you would think that it would be impossible to land anything on its surface. And you’re partly right. During the height of the space race, the Soviet Union launched a series of Venera spacecraft to attempt landings on the surface of Venus. But they underestimated just how nasty the atmosphere can be.

The early spacecraft were crushed as they passed down through the atmosphere. But finally Venera 8 was the first spacecraft to land on the surface of Venus and sent pictures back to Earth. Further missions lasted longer, and even returned the first color images of the surface of Venus.

6. People used to think Venus was tropical
Until the Americans and Soviets sent their first spacecraft to study Venus up close, nobody really knew what was down under the planet’s thick clouds. Science fiction writers dreamed up lush tropical jungles. The hellish temperatures and dense atmospheres surprised everyone.

7. Venus has no moons
Once again, Venus looks less and less like our twin. Unlike the Earth, Venus has no moons. Mars has moons, and even Pluto has moons. But Venus… no moons.

8. Venus has phases
Although Venus just looks like a really bright star in the sky, if you can see it with a telescope, you’ll see something much different. When looking through a telescope, you can see that Venus goes through phases, like the Moon. When Venus is closest, at its brightest, it actually makes a thin crescent. And then, when Venus is dimmest and furthest away, you see more of a circle.

9. The surface of Venus has few impact craters
While the surface of Mercury, Mars and the Moon are pounded with impact craters, the surface of Venus has relatively few craters. Planetary scientists estimate that the surface of Venus is only half a billion years old. The constant volcanism reshapes the surface, covering over any impact craters regularly.

10. There’s a spacecraft there right now.
Many spacecraft have traveled to Venus, but one of the most sophisticated is there right now: Venus Express. The mission was sent by the European Space Agency, and arrived at Venus on April 11, 2006. It will perform a detailed study of the Venusian atmosphere and clouds and will map the planet’s plasma environment and its surface.

There you go, I hope you enjoyed these fun facts about Venus.

References:
NASA: The Planet Venus
NASA Solar System Exploration: Venus

About 

Fraser Cain is the publisher of Universe Today. He's also the co-host of Astronomy Cast with Dr. Pamela Gay.

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