Fast Facts on the Planet Venus History Size Atmosphere and More

About the planet Venus, fast facts including history, size, atmosphere and more.


Next to the sun and moon it is Venus that is the brightest object in the sky, so bright that it can cast a shadow. In ancient cultures, Venus the evening star and Venus the morning star was not always recognized as being the same planet. To the Egyptians, it was 2 planets, and to the ancient Greeks--until Pythagoras of Samos figured the mystery out--it was Hesperos in the west, or evening, and Phosphoros, "light bearer," in the morning. In all cultures it has been identified as feminine.

The explanation for Venus's brightness is its 20-mi.-thick cloud cover that reflects 3/4 of the light that strikes it. The cloud cover also accounts for the horrendous 900deg.F. temperature of the surface. Much as a car in a parking lot on a sunny day, or a hothouse, Venus gets heated. The radiation that does penetrate the clouds does not leave.

The cloud cover long prevented observations of its surface. At one time it was supposed that Venus was a watery planet, simply because of the clouds.

Today with the information from the American Mariners--it took Mariner 2 109 days to come close to Venus--and the Russian Venus probes we are more certain of our information. The atmosphere of this planet that comes nearest us--within 26 million mi.--is mostly inhospitable carbon dioxide with traces of water vapor, oxygen, poisonous hydrogen chloride, and carbon monoxide. The atmosphere bears down on the surface with a pressure 15 to 22 times what it is on earth.

The hidden surface of Venus is not smooth, as the cloud cover may have suggested, but rugged, mountainous, and arid. So Venus, the planet most like the earth in size--it is 95% of the earth's diameter--is a hostile world.

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