National Geographic

Venus Is More Than Just a Cautionary Tale

Venus shines more brightly in Earth’s sky than any of our stars, but it gets surprisingly little attention nowadays (unless it’s being used as an example of a planetary What Not To Do).

Not that long ago, though, humans seemed rather interested in hurling tons of hardware at our sister planet, which is roughly the same size as Earth. From the 1960s through the early 1980s, Venus was the target of 19 Soviet space missions. The Venera program launched 16 probes at the cloudy world and managed to grab several photos from the planet’s parched surface. NASA has sent a half-dozen spacecraft to the planet – the most recent being Magellan, which orbited Venus between 1989 and 1994, and mapped 98 percent of the planet’s surface.

Venera 13 Lander image of the surface of Venus. The probe survived on the surface for two hours, in 1982. Soviet Planetary Exploration Program/NASA)

Venera 13 Lander image of the surface of Venus. The probe survived on the surface for two hours, in 1982. (Soviet Planetary Exploration Program/NASA)

It took nearly a decade for the next spacecraft to arrive at our nearest neighbor. Since 2006, the European Space Agency’s intrepid Venus Express spacecraft has been exploring the sulfuric planet. The mission has revealed much about the mysterious world that hides beneath its cloudy shroud. But later this year, when the spacecraft plunges through the 250-kilometer thick clouds and falls to the planet’s surface, Venus will again be alone. At least until next year, when the Japanese space probe Akatsuki is supposed to arrive. Our sister planet was once rather Earthy in many respects, so Earthy that it’s possible life may have gained a feeble foothold early on. Billions of years ago, scientists say, Venus had oceans, and a pleasant climate. But those oceans evaporated and the planet fell prey to a runaway greenhouse effect. The once-friendly, fertile world was transformed into a roasting, hellish home.

Anyway. In addition to its role as a warning to others, Venus offers a wealth of fun and crazy facts. Here are a few Venusian wonders.

1. Venus endlessly traces the same series of five shapes in Earth’s sky. The Mayans used these shapes, and Venus, as a basis for their cosmology and calendar.

2. Venus will always be a morning or evening “star.” It will never be a mid-day star, as Mars and Jupiter can be, because it orbits in between the sun and Earth.

3. The surface of Venus, at roughly 840 degrees F, is the hottest place in the entire solar system (aside from the sun, of course). It’s even hotter than Mercury.

4. Difference in temperature between day and night on Venus: 0 degrees.

5. Difference in temperature between the planet’s equator and poles: 0 degrees.

6. Reason for #4 and #5: That enormously thick, carbon dioxide atmosphere redistributes heat very efficiently. In other words, if you’re on Venus and you need to cool off, your best bet is to go up. Roughly 30 miles up, where the pressure and temperature finally relax and become something Earth-like (see #8).

7. But you wouldn’t want to be on Venus, because you’d die. The pressure on the planet’s surface is 90 times that of Earth (so, roughly the equivalent of being beneath 8,000 feet of water).

8. That doesn’t mean the planet is necessarily lifeless. It’s possible that organisms could live in those acid clouds, which contain water, energy, and nutrients.

9. Also, Venus might be actively volcanic. Scientists are still working on sorting this out, but evidence from the surface suggests geologically recent volcanic eruptions (within the last million years).

10. Greenhouse gases create efficient incubators. Venus’ thick shroud reflects roughly 80 percent of the sunlight that hits the planet. This means that the small amount of sunlight that does get through is enough to superheat the planet – thanks to those gases and that massive atmosphere.

Thank you to astrobiologist David Grinspoon, author of Venus Revealed, for helping me with this post!

There are 41 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Brett
    June 2, 2014

    It really is a pity Venus couldn’t have had Mars’ orbit instead of the one it had, otherwise we’d probably have an Earth twin farther out.

  2. young
    June 2, 2014

    The work you people do. It’s great.
    The problem I have is trying to understand. Up. down.left .right.
    Distance in space ect. But I love NAT.
    GEO.

  3. Gerli Carotti
    June 3, 2014

    Extremely interesting

  4. Mason Richardson
    June 3, 2014

    i agree

  5. princechem
    June 3, 2014

    Science and technology I love you

  6. mahamudul hasan
    June 4, 2014

    interesting Venus

  7. hhw
    June 4, 2014

    that is the futureof the earth

  8. Carlos Eduardo Marcello
    June 6, 2014

    Awesome!

  9. Twesigye Levis
    June 7, 2014

    Though it seems unfriendly to human life, i believe i can live on that planet.

  10. gebre tesema
    June 7, 2014

    I love this technology

  11. Chris
    June 7, 2014

    Very interesting.

  12. Thomas Blood
    June 7, 2014

    The surface of Venus may be the 2nd hottest place in the SS. The 1st is, and will remain, our Sun at roughly 10,000 F (surface).

    (ND: Yes, thank you. I’ve clarified that sentence for readers who may have been confused.)

  13. Laurence Oko
    June 7, 2014

    Super interesting science, scientist and Venus. I used †̥o think a planet’s temp. is almost solely determined by its proximity †̥o the Sun. My fear is the possibility of ōϋя earth becoming like that in the future with the scourge of global warming…

  14. Mike Lorrey
    June 7, 2014

    If Earth had 92 times more atmosphere than it does, and was 30% closer to the Sun, then yes, this would be a cautionary tale. Since we don’t, then it isn’t.

  15. jamesksng
    June 7, 2014

    Thank you for giving useful interesting informations.

  16. Nithn
    June 7, 2014

    Hi can any one suggest how is our solar system spreaded from left to right or top to bottom.

  17. Ricky Dewet
    June 7, 2014

    Very interesting. I like earth more! Love our summers and well winters I’m not keen on!!! Did venus house the beard of flies before? Read that somewhere?!

  18. Terry waters
    June 7, 2014

    Another place to be crossed off my holiday list of places to be visited

  19. shazia farooki
    June 7, 2014

    you are the best as always is revealing interesting facts

  20. Belinda
    June 7, 2014

    What happened to the diamond planet I saw in the news?

  21. Tey angeles
    June 7, 2014

    Thanks for your informative post. Will discuss it with my students this term.

  22. k s venkatraman
    June 7, 2014

    lovely great

  23. Nigussie
    June 7, 2014

    Woooooow

  24. David
    June 7, 2014

    I like this kind of science.

  25. Awais khatti
    June 7, 2014

    it change my thoughts about venus. but it is hotter then murcury!!!!

  26. Regina Ford
    June 7, 2014

    Is not the Planet Mercury the nearest Planet of our Solar System to our Sun ? So he should be a lot hotter?

  27. Regina Ford
    June 7, 2014

    Herewith I give an advice that we humans should only care for our nice Planet Earth and wasting no money to look into other Planets in our Solar System and also other Planet Systems.Venus is so close to us . her surface is like living in Hell.Her Temperatur is 800fahrenheithot at day time and 300 fahrenheit cold at night.And she is clouded in a poison Carbendioxed Cloud whole around her

  28. Marie Helene Nankou
    June 7, 2014

    Wow. Very interesting.

  29. Joe
    June 7, 2014

    Intresting u guyz are real mafians,inshort ‘thanks 4 this facts!!!

  30. Fawad Kakar
    June 7, 2014

    really nice and interesting.

  31. Wilbur Karmun Jr
    June 8, 2014

    If there was an ocean and a pleasant atmosphere, was Venus orbit farther out from the sun? I assume the planets are being drawn closer into the sun.

  32. seems
    June 8, 2014

    Amazing.I love planets topics.

  33. Joseph T. Meitzler
    June 8, 2014

    This makes me question if Adam & Eve is even an earth story.

  34. Julia Arlow
    June 8, 2014

    We must take Earth warming seriously as perhaps this story will be the future of our beautiful planet.

  35. Tanmoy Das
    June 8, 2014

    Very informative and interesting.

  36. aleks
    June 8, 2014

    Brett, Venus’ extreme temperature isn’t caused by its orbit but by its atmosphere.

  37. Stefan
    June 9, 2014

    You forgot to mention the metallic snow on the Venus mountains, made of heavy metals (lead) mixed with sulphur. This definitely tops my list of interesting Venus facts.

  38. JimHarris
    June 9, 2014

    So, for all we know, life such as we have here on earth could once have thrived on Venus until the occupants inadvertently murdered the planet with CO2, aka greenhouse gases. And if so, I wonder how those inhabitants felt when they first realized that they had passed the point of no return in the build-up of carbon dioxide and their planet was doomed to become an eternal hell. Frightening thought, huh?

  39. Ajose Paul
    June 10, 2014

    Great facts

  40. Gilberto G.
    June 10, 2014

    just fascinating!

  41. Ginger
    July 12, 2014

    Well it’s not like the sun our sun is the hottest place in the universe There are other HOTTER suns

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