As the second planet from the Sun, and the third brightest natural object in the sky. (aside from the Sun and Moon) Venus is Earth’s nearest planetary neighbor. Mankind first observed the planet in prehistoric times, and its name comes from the Roman goddess of love and beauty.
It is, however, anything but beautiful on its surface! Venus is blanketed by thick clouds, and it was once believed to be a wet and humid planet covered with swamps and lush vegetation. However, recent observations and measurements by large telescopes and spacecraft have determined it to be radically different. Venus is a “hellish” place – its clouds are comprised of sulfuric acid and its surface temperature is hot enough to melt lead. Its atmosphere is made up primarily of carbon dioxide and is so thick that the pressure at the planet’s surface is a crushing ninety times that of Earth’s. This pressure is about the same as you’d experience three thousand feet below the surface of Earth’s ocean.
If Venus was not such a hostile planet, it would still be a very strange place to visit. Its day is approximately two hundred forty-three Earth days in length and it rotates in the “wrong” direction (opposite the direction of Earth’s rotation). This retrograde rotation means the Sun rises in the west on Venus and sets in its eastern sky. Another interesting note: its year is only 224.701 Earth days. This means a single day on Venus is longer than its entire year.
Venus’s location between the Earth and the Sun dictates that it goes through phases similar to those of Earth’s moon. The image above shows the planet in a slightly “crescent” phase.