|Venus: Death of a Planet
Named after the Roman Goddess of Love and Beauty - Earth's Sister Planet
Why did Earth thrive and our sister planet, Venus, died? From the fires
of a sun's birth, twin planets emerged. Then their paths diverged.
is the second planet from the Sun, orbiting it every 224.7 Earth days.
The planet is named after Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty.
After the Moon, it is the brightest natural object in the night sky.
Because Venus is an inferior planet from Earth, it never appears to
venture far from the Sun.
Venus reaches its maximum brightness shortly before sunrise or shortly
after sunset, for which reason it has been known as the Morning Star or
Venus is classified as a terrestrial planet and it is sometimes called
Earth's "sister planet" due to the similar size, gravity, and bulk
Nature draped one world in the greens and blues of life. While
enveloping the other in acid clouds, high heat, and volcanic flows.
Why did Venus take such a disastrous turn?
For as long as we
have gazed upon the stars, they have offered few signs that somewhere
out there are worlds as rich and diverse as our own. Recently,
though, astronomers have found ways to see into the bright lights of
They've been discovering planets at a rapid rate using observatories like NASA's Kepler space telescope. A
French observatory known as Corot and an array of ground-based
The count is approaching 500 and rising. These alien
worlds run the gamut from great gas giants many times the size of
our Jupiter to rocky, charred remnants that burned when their parent
Some have wild elliptical orbits swinging far
out into space then diving into scorching stellar winds. Still others
orbit so close to their parent stars that their surfaces are likely
bathed in molten rock.
Amid these hostile realms, a few bear tantalizing
hints of water or ice ingredients needed to nurture life as we know
The race to find other Earths has raised anew the ancient
question whether, out in the folds of our galaxy, planets like our
own are abundant and life commonplace? Or whether Earth is a rare
Garden of Eden in a barren universe?
With so little direct
evidence of these other worlds to go on, we have only the stories of
planets within our own solar system to gauge the chances of finding
another Earth. Consider, for example, a world that has long had the
look and feel of a life-bearing planet.
Except for the moon, there's no
brighter light in our night skies than the planet Venus known as both
the morning and the evening star.
The ancient Romans named it
for their goddess of beauty and love. In time, the master painters
transformed this classical symbol into an erotic figure.
It was a
scientist, Galileo Galilei, who demystified planet Venus charting its
phases as it moved around the sun, drawing it into the ranks of the
With a similar size and weight, Venus became known as Earth's sister
planet. But how Earth-like is it? The Russian scientist Mikkhail
Lomonosov caught a tantalizing hint in 1761. As Venus passed in front of
the Sun, he witnessed a hair thin luminescence on its edge.
he found, has an atmosphere. Later observations revealed a thick layer
of clouds. Astronomers imagined they were made of water vapor, like
those on Earth. Did they obscure stormy, wet conditions below? And did
anyone, or anything, live there?
NASA sent Mariner 2 to Venus in
1962 in the first-ever close planetary encounter. Its instruments
showed that Venus is nothing at all like Earth. Rather, it's extremely
hot, with an atmosphere made up mostly of carbon dioxide.
data showed that Venus rotates very slowly only once every 243 Earth
days and it goes in the opposite direction. American and Soviet
scientists found out just how strange Venus is when they sent a series
of landers down to take direct readings.
Venus Unveiled - NOVA
Surface temperatures are
almost 900 degrees Fahrenheit, hot enough to melt lead, with the air
pressure 90 times higher than at sea level on Earth.
The air is so thick
that it's not a gas, but a "supercritical fluid." Liquid CO2.
planet, the only naturally occurring source is in the high-temperature,
high-pressure environments of undersea volcanoes.
It comes in handy for
extracting caffeine from coffee beans or drycleaning our clothes. You
just wouldn't want to have to breathe it.
The Soviet Venera landers
sent back pictures showing that Venus is a vast garden of rock, with no
water in sight.
In fact, if you were to smooth out the surface of Venus,
all the water in the atmosphere would be just 3 centimeters deep.
Compare that to Earth where the oceans would form a layer 3
If you could land on Venus, you'd be treated to
tranquil vistas and sunset skies, painted in orange hues. The winds are
light, only a few miles per hour but the air is so thick that a
breeze would knock you over. Look up and you'd see fast-moving clouds
streaking around the planet at 300 kilometers per hour.
form a dense high-altitude layer, from 45 to 66 kilometers above the
surface. The clouds are so dense and reflective that Venus
absorbs much less solar energy than Earth, even though it's 30% closer
to the Sun.