Venus, the hottest and closest planet to Earth

Venus is in fact the closest planet to Earth and is the second planet from the Sun.  It’s surface temperature is incredibly hot.  Venus is the brightest object in the night sky other than the moon and is often referred to as the evening and morning star since that is when it’s most visible.  Venus is about 95% as wide and has 81% the mass of Earth.  Is it often referred to as Earth’s “sister planet”.

Venus, clouded (left) and surface radar view (right)
Venus, clouded from a telescope view (left) and surface radar view (right)

Rotation and orbit

Venus’ year is about 224.7 Earth days and orbits about 65 million miles from the Sun.  However what’s strange is Venus’ day is about 243 Earth days, longer than it’s year!

Venus goes through what is called phases (it’s an inferior planet) because it orbits the Sun closer than Earth.  Basically as Venus travels on the far side of the sun relative to Earth we see all the light reflect off it’s dense cloud layer so it appears bright to us.  Then when Venus is on the same side of the sun as Earth a smaller percentage of the planet is lit up (kind of a crescent outline) but actually appears brighter to us than being on the far side just because the planet is closer.

What’s also interesting about Venus is that it rotates in the opposite direction that Earth does.  If you were on Venus’ surface the sun would set in the East and rise in the West.

Life on Venus?

Before the 1962 Mariner 2 probe reached Venus, scientists speculated Venus might harbor oceans and ground based life.  It was thought there might be thick vegetation below the clouds.  Unfortunately the probes that have successfully reached Venus have indicated the surface temperature is very hot at about 735 K (462 °C; 863 °F).  So unfortunately there isn’t any life that we know of on Venus.  

The atmosphere is made up of approximately 95% carbon dioxide (CO2), a greenhouse gas, which is thought to be responsible for the very high temperatures at the surface.  The clouds on Venus are made up of sulfur dioxide and drops of sulfuric acid.

The surface

The surface of Venus is mostly covered by volcanic plains; it’s relatively flat, rocky and lifeless.  There are many volcanoes present.  The rest of it’s surface is made up to two continents of raised land, one in the northern hemisphere about the size of the US and the second just below the equator about the size of south America.

The largest mountain on Venus is called Maxwell Montes and stands about 6.8 miles above the average surface elevation.