The Goddess of love and beauty (Greek: Aphrodite)
Venus has been called our sister world. It is similar in size
but not much else. It's surface has long remained a mystery
because the planet is perpetually covered with thick clouds.
Early in the century, some suggested it would be a tropical
garden. It is anything but a 'garden of eden'. Many U.S. and
Russian space-probes quickly fell silent attempting a
descent into it's hellish environment. It's atmospheric
pressure is 90 times that of Earth. It's surface temperature
is high enough to melt lead. This high temperature from
it's CO2 atmosphere led to the 'greenhouse effect' theory.
In 1975 the Russian Venera 9 spacecraft sent back photos of it's
surface. To me the most interesting aspect of the photos was
the way the 'heavy' atmosphere dramatically curves the
horizon. The U.S. Magellan spacecraft began 'radar mapping'
it's surface in 1990 and continued for several years. This has
been our most detailed look at the planet.
The greatest mystery is why the planet has no craters
older than about 500 million years. Yet the craters there
now are largely in pristine condition. Whatever process
destroyed the older craters doesn't seem to be occurring
at the present time. What is the process that removed the
older craters? That is still being debated.
Perhaps one of the easiest objects to see. It is the brightest
object in the sky apart from the Sun and Moon. It is the second
planet out from the sun so it strays further from the Sun
than Mercury. It can 'set' as much as four hours after the
sun. Since it is bright and always low in a dark sky some
mistake it for a UFO.
Through a small telescope the phases of the planet can easily
be followed (Venus like Mercury is inside the earth's orbit, so
it shows phases like our Moon). Some have claimed to see it's
crescent phase with the naked eye. Little detail can be seen in
it's clouds. At best, a few faint markings (more like slight
variations in shade) can be seen.
A false color image of impact craters on Venus. The image is
created with radar data from the Magellan spacecraft (which can
penetrate the thick clouds).
An ultraviolet image from the Hubble Space Telescope showing
faint details in the Venusian clouds. The contrasts are higher
than they would appear visually. Through a telescope it looks
pretty much solid white.
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