Key Takeaways

  1. Venus, the second planet from the Sun, is known for its extreme heat, thick clouds, and unique rotation.
  2. Its bright appearance in the sky and its nickname “morning star” or “evening star” are due to its orbital dynamics.
  3. Venus is often considered Earth’s “sister planet” due to similar size and mass, but their atmospheres and conditions differ significantly.
  4. Venus has a harsh environment with a dense atmosphere of carbon dioxide, leading to a scorching surface temperature.
  5. The planet’s unique retrograde rotation and lack of a strong magnetic field contribute to its distinct characteristics.

Venus, the enigmatic second planet from the Sun, holds a fascination with its fiery secrets. Often dubbed the “morning star” or “evening star,” it captivates skywatchers due to its shimmering brilliance. Its apparent closeness to Earth led to its classification as our planet’s “sister,” yet the resemblance goes only so far. Underneath its uninviting veil of clouds lies a realm of extremes. Venus boasts an atmosphere dominated by carbon dioxide, its runaway greenhouse effect baking the surface at a sizzling 863°F (462°C). Its peculiar retrograde rotation, defying the norm, raises questions about its history.

Once speculated to be Earth-like, Venus reveals a turbulent past. Ancient oceans may have once caressed its surface, but the ruthless greenhouse effect evaporated them into oblivion. Its surface, dominated by vast lava plains and shield volcanoes, reflects its volcanic history. The mystery of Venus extends to its core; whether solid or liquid remains uncertain. Named after the Roman goddess of love and beauty, Venus holds beauty only in its ethereal shroud, for its harsh reality offers little solace.


Hemispheric View by NASA/JPL/USGS.

NASA sent the Magellan spacecraft to Venus in 1990. Over the following four years, Magellan took pictures of more than 98% of the planet. This hemispheric view is color-coded to illustrate elevation.

Magellan showed that Venus has a “relatively young” surface, making it 700 million years old at most.1 Venus doesn’t experience plate tectonics and shifting as Earth does, so pressure builds until the planet effectively recycles its crust. Some experts think Venus may completely resurface itself every few hundred million years.


Captured by Mariner 10

In the early 1970s, NASA sent Mariner 10 past Venus. In 1974, the probe returned the first close-up image of the planet. In this image, Venus has been color-enhanced to show what it would look like to the human eye. Here you can see the clouds of carbon dioxide enshrouding the planet, where temperatures can reach as high as 900 degrees Fahrenheit.

Despite its inhospitable climate, the planet is known as Earth’s “twin” as it is also a terrestrial planet that is just smaller than our home world.


Crater Farm

Like most planets, Venus has impact craters dotting its surface. However, it has fewer impact craters than other planets like Mercury, largely due to its young surface. Because of this, Venus also has a large amount of craters in “pristine” condition. This photo, taken by Magellan, shows a three-dimensional colored view of a crater farm on the planet’s surface.


Global View. SSV / MIPL / Magellan Team / NASA

This global view of Venus is created through data from the Magellan, Pioneer, and Venera missions. This look from several spacecrafts displays the northern hemisphere of the planet.

By watching the changes of Venus through his telescope, Galileo came to his groundbreaking conclusion that Venus orbits around the sun. This was revolutionary for the time, as most believed that the sun and all planets revolved around the Earth. When Venus is seen from the Earth, it is the brightest planet in the sky.


Cloud Structure. NASA / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

In 1978, NASA sent the Pioneer Venus Orbiter to study Venus for more than 10 years. This image shows the extensive cloud cover of the planet. Scientists believe that Venus once contained water and could have been quite similar to Earth a billion years ago. But the most powerful greenhouse gas effect in the solar system has rendered the planet a wasteland of toxicity.

Because the atmosphere is mostly carbon dioxide, heat is trapped on the planet’s surface. This means that Venus is hotter than Mercury, despite Mercury’s closer proximity to the sun. Scorching temperature aside, there’s still a question about whether the clouds of Venus could still harbor life.


Maat Mons. NASA / JPL

According to NASA, Venus is mostly covered in flat lands. However, it still has valleys and roughly six grand regions of mountains. Venus shows evidence of active volcanoes. This is an image of Maat Mons, a volcano that extends five miles high.

Named for the Egyptian goddess of truth and justice, Maat Mons is revealed here by the Magellan spacecraft. NASA points out that lava flows extend from the volcano across the plains in the foreground.


Seen From Earth. ESO/Y / Beletsky / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

This photo shows Venus shining brightly alongside the moon as seen from the European Space Observatory in Chile. Venus is brighter than any other planet or star. In fact, when the planet is at its brightest, you can see it in the daytime.

NASA points out that Venus is so bright that ancient people called its morning appearance “Phosphorus,” while naming its evening showing “Hesperus.” It was only later that astronomers realized the two were the same.


Hostile Planet. NASA / SDO / AIA / Flickr /CC BY 2.0

When Earth and Venus are at their closest points, they are only 38 million miles apart. “Venus.” NASA Science Solar System Exploration. Nonetheless, our sister planet remains a mystery. Several spacecrafts have been sent to the surface, but the planet’s extreme temperatures and high pressure inevitably disable and crush the crafts soon after landing. Until then, Venus will continue to fascinate, as this image of the transit of Venus across the sun’s path amplifies. This event happens in pairs eight years apart that are separated from each other by 105 or 121 years. The one shown here was in 2012. The previous transit was in 2004, and the next will not happen until 2117.

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