Information on the Planet Venus

Venus was named for the goddess of love in Roman mythology. It is the second planet from the sun and is almost the same size as the Earth. Venus is easily seen from the Earth without the need of binoculars or a telescope. It is the third brightest object in our skies -- only the Sun and the Moon are brighter.

Venus completes its orbit around the Sun every 225 Earth days. Because of the orbital paths of both Venus and the Earth, Venus becomes the closest planet to us every 584 days. At its closest, Venus is a mere 23.7 million miles away. In comparison, when Mars is at its closest to us, it is 33.9 million miles away.

While Venus is unusual in a number of ways, the most unusual fact is that Venus spins backwards -- in other words, on Venus, the Sun rises in the west and sets in the east! Added to that is that one rotation around its axis takes Venus 243 Earth days. It takes more than one Venusian year to complete a rotation -- something the Earth does in 24 hours. Because the "year" is shorter than the "day", the Sun will rise twice in the Venusian skies before it can complete one spin on its axis -- only 116.8 Earth days pass between sunrises on Venus, even though it takes 243 Earth days for it to complete one rotation.

While Venus is almost the same size as the Earth, its atmosphere is very different. The atmosphere on Venus is very thick and dense. It is made up of mostly carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas). Carbon dioxide makes up 96.5% of the air on Venus. Nitrogen makes up almost all the rest, with just trace amounts of sulfur dioxide, argon, water, carbon monoxide, helium and neon detected. The atmospheric pressure on Venus is 90 times what it is on the Earth. The dense atmosphere has caused thick clouds to form, concealing the surface of Venus from our view. It has also trapped an enormous amount of heat on Venus -- the average surface temperature is 867 degrees F., making Venus the hottest planet in the solar system.

Using radar on probes sent to Venus, much of the surface of the planet has been mapped. Venus has a number of large impact craters, but is geologically quite dormant. It does not appear to have any tectonic plates and hence very few fault lines. There are large areas of "highlands", probably formed by large lava flows several hundred million years ago. There are about 1,600 known volcanoes on Venus.

Facts about Venus:

Perihelion distance:66.8 million miles
Apehelion distance:67.7 million miles
Mean distance:67.2 million miles
Period of revolution ("year"):224.7 days
Orbital eccentricity:0.0067
Orbital inclination:3.39 degrees
Synodic day (midday to midday):116.75 days (retrograde)
Sidereal day (1 rotation):243 days 30 minutes
Surface gravity:0.91 g
Volume (Earth = 1):0.857
Mass (Earth = 1):0.815
Density (Earth = 1):0.951

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