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Planet Venus: History, Photography, and Exploration


Venus is the second planet in order from the Sun. It is also known as the Morning Star or the Evening Star and is a rocky, terrestrial planet. Venus is about 95% the size of Earth, making it the closest planet to Earth in terms of size. Venus does not have any moons and has a harsh environment. Discover what the planet is made of, interesting facts and stats, our astrophotography attempts and observation tips, as well as information about space missions to the planet Venus.


All you need to know about the planet Venus


 

Venus: The Goddess Planet


Venus is the second planet from the Sun and is located between Mercury and Earth. Like Earth, it is a terrestrial planet with a solid surface and a thick atmosphere. Its composition is similar to Earth's, with a rocky surface and an atmosphere mostly composed of carbon dioxide. Venus is the hottest planet in the solar system, with surface temperatures reaching over 860 degrees Fahrenheit! 🥵


Who was Venus Named after?


Venus - Goddess of Love and Beauty
Goddess of Love and Beauty

Venus has been known and observed by civilizations throughout history.

The first recorded observation of the planet was by Babylonian astronomers in the 17th century BCE.


The name comes from the Romans, who gave named the planet after the goddess of love and beauty, Venus. The Greeks also named the planet after the goddess of love and beauty, and the equivalent name was Aphrodite.



Did you know? Venus is the only planet in the Solar System named after a female deity.


 

Size and Mass


Size comparison between Earth and the planet Venus
Earth vs Venus - Real size

Venus has a radius of 3,760 miles (6,052 kilometers), which is about 95% the size of Earth's radius. It is often referred to as Earth's sister planet due to its similarities in size and composition. Its mass is about 81.5% of Earth's.


Venus has a gravitational pull that is about 90% that of Earth's, meaning objects weigh slightly less on Venus. It also has no magnetic field, and its atmosphere is mostly composed of carbon dioxide with clouds of sulfuric acid. Due to the thick atmosphere, the surface of Venus experiences extreme temperatures of up to 864 degrees Fahrenheit (462 degrees Celsius), making it the hottest planet in the Solar System.


 

Distance from the Sun


Venus is located approximately 67 million miles (108 million kilometers - 0.7 Astronomical Units) away from the sun. It is closer to the central star than Earth, which is 1 AU away (about 93 million miles or 150 million kilometers).


Being closer to the sun, Venus receives more sunlight (thus more heat) than Earth, making it the brightest planet in our sky. The high temperatures on the planet are due to its thick atmosphere, which traps heat and creates a greenhouse effect. It takes sunlight about 6 minutes to reach Venus's surface from the sun.


 

Time, Rotation, and Orbit


Let's hop on an imaginary rocket to Venus. What's a day like in the life of a Venusian?


Time


A Venusian day is quite unique compared to most other planets in our Solar System. One day on Venus takes 243 Earth days, making it the slowest rotating planet. Perhaps even more interesting, the direction of rotation is opposite to that of most other planets!


Rotation


The slow rotation of Venus is not the only unique feature, its rotation direction is also a curiosity. While most planets in our Solar System rotate counterclockwise, Venus rotates clockwise, which is known as a retrograde rotation. This slow and reversed rotation contributes to the planet's extreme temperature differences between day and night.


Unlike Mars and other planets, where the surface speed was calculated with spacecraft on missions, there is no known information about the surface speed of Venus. The planet's surface features and movements are difficult to observe due to its thick, opaque atmosphere. For reference, the surface speed on Earth, at the equator, is 1,000 mph.


Orbit


Venus orbits the sun at an average distance of 67.2 million miles (108.2 million kilometers), which is approximately 0.7 times the distance between Earth and the sun. It has an orbital period of 225 Earth days, meaning it takes 225 Earth days to complete one orbit around the sun.


Venus' orbit is also unique, as it is the most nearly circular orbit of all the planets in our Solar System. This means that its distance from the sun does not vary much throughout its orbit.


Venus and Earth Orbits compared


To summarize, the time and rotation on Venus differ from what we're used to on Earth. The length of a day on Venus is much longer, lasting about 243 Earth days. On the other hand, a year on Venus is shorter than a year on Earth, lasting approximately 225 Earth days.


It's crazy to think that the length of a day on Venus (243 Earth days) is almost the same as a full year on the planet (225 Earth days).


 

Can You See Venus with a Telescope?


Venus is easy to spot in the night sky and is a nice planet to observe! Despite not being as large as the gas giants, Venus is still beautiful to view through an eyepiece - especially when it is at its brightest. Do not expect to see much though, as the opaque atmosphere and the clouds almost always hide any surface detail. If you are lucky enough to look through a large enough instrument on a good day and take pictures with the right filter, you might be able to spot some surface features such as mountains and valleys. We haven't been this lucky yet, so good luck.



How to Observe Venus with a Telescope


If you're looking for a telescope to observe planets but are unsure of which one to get, we have a few recommendations for you! It may be tempting to go for cheaper options, but you may end up wasting both your money and time. It's best to avoid super cheap telescopes sold at large retailers. Trust us - those bargains are usually too good to be true, as they are constructed with low-quality materials that impact your experience.


8" Dobsonian telescope for planets

When it comes to the best telescope to view planets, we recommend an 8", 10", or 12" Dobsonian. These telescopes are built for visual astronomy and are perfect for planets and the moon.


For a complete beginner, an 8" Dobsonian (like pictured here) is a good choice for larger planets like Jupiter but might not be enough for you if you really want the best view on smaller planets like Venus or Mars. If you don't mind the extra size and weight of the 10" and 12" versions, pick one of these instead!



Dobsonian telescopes are fantastic for visual observations, but if you attach a DSLR camera and pick up a few basic skills, you can capture cool photos of the moon and planets.


 

Can you take a picture of Planet Venus from Earth?


Venus is a popular planet to photograph among beginner astrophotographers and is relatively easy to capture through a telescope. However, don't expect to see incredibly detailed features.


Can you take a picture of Venus from Earth? Yes, you can! There are two ways to photograph planets through a telescope:

  1. Taking a single image using a DSLR or mirrorless camera attached to a telescope, which is the easiest option recommended for beginners

  2. Recording a video at a high frame rate and stacking the best frames into one image, provides the best result but is an advanced technique that requires a planetary camera and some processing skills


The picture below was taken with our ZWO ASI585MC camera and a C11 telescope in Las Vegas. As you can see, it is completely featureless and looks blurry despite the image being well-focused. Well, the clouds on Venus are completely hiding all the details on the planet! The use of a filter might be useful in this case to reveal some hidden details, so we will try experimenting with that very soon!


Picture of Venus with a telescope

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Gain lifetime access to a ton of astrophotography content by becoming a member of the Galactic Course. Whether you're a beginner or advanced, this course covers everything you need to know about astrophotography and offers much more.




 

Phases of Venus



Phases of Venus - ESO
Phases of Venus - ESO

Just like our moon, Venus has different phases! This is because Venus orbits the Sun within Earth's orbit, and was first discovered by Galileo Galilei in the early 17th century.


The shape and illuminated sides of the planet change from Earth's point of view. For example, when Venus is on the same side of the Sun as Earth, it appears as a thin crescent shape. As it moves to the other side of the Sun, it appears as a nearly full disc.




 

Planet Venus History


Now that you're familiar with Venus, let's learn more about its history. Find out how the planet formed, its composition, if life is sustainable on Venus and more.


First close-up picture of Venus - NASA - Feb. 5, 1974
First close-up picture of Venus - NASA - Feb. 5, 1974

Formation and Age


Venus, which is about the same age as Earth, formed approximately 4.6 billion years ago as the Solar System was taking shape. Like other terrestrial planets, Venus was formed from dust and gas that had condensed into a proto-planetary disk around the (young) sun.


Can Venus Support Life?


Despite being of a similar age and origin to Earth, the conditions on the planet are not hospitable for life. Venus has a thick atmosphere made up of carbon dioxide with extremely high pressure, which creates a dense greenhouse effect that has resulted in surface temperatures of about 870 degrees Fahrenheit (465 degrees Celsius).


The harsh environment on the surface of Venus makes it almost impossible for life as we know it to survive. On top of this, the planet lacks any magnetic field and its close proximity to the sun's solar winds means that its atmosphere is always being stripped away. In short, there could technically be some microbial life on Venus that could survive the super harsh conditions, but there would not be any other type of life form that could thrive there.


Check out our other posts to discover if life is sustainable on other planets, like Jupiter.


 

Composition and Structure


What is Venus Made of?


Composition of Venus
Credit: Universe Today

The composition of Venus is mostly made up of silicate rock and metal, with a small percentage of other elements like water, carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur. The surface is covered with volcanic plains, mountains, and lava flows.


Venus's atmosphere is dense and composed of carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and other gases.


The interior of Venus is believed to have a solid, rocky mantle and a metallic core composed of iron and nickel, similar to Earth's. Scientists are not exactly sure about the composition and state of the core, but they think the core is surrounded by a layer of molten metal.


One of the biggest mysteries surrounding Venus is its lack of a magnetic field. Earth has a strong magnetic field that protects it from the solar wind, but the second planet from the sun does not. This may be due to the slow rotation of Venus, or the planet's hot and dense atmosphere, which may interact with the solar wind in a way that prevents the formation of a magnetic field.


Venus Atmosphere
Atmosphere on Venus. Credit: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.


What Does the Surface of Venus Look Like?

Venus's surface is full of craters, canyons, and volcanoes, and they have been well-documented by orbiters and landers. Venus is overall yellowish because of the thick sulfuric acid clouds all over. The landscape is harsh and mostly made up of rocky mountains and deep valleys.


Largest Volcano on Venus: Maat Mons (3D Render)
Largest Volcano on Venus: Maat Mons (3D Render)

One of the most impressive features of Venus is the volcano Maat Mons, which is one of the highest mountains in the solar system.

Venus has more than 1,000 volcanoes, many of which are still active or were active in the past. Maat Mons, the highest volcano, and the one you see on the left is over 8 km (5 miles) high and 400 km (250 miles) wide.


The planet also has the largest impact crater in the solar system, named the Venusian Basin (also known as the South Polar Basin). It is huge and located in the southern hemisphere.


The surface of Venus contains basalt and granite, and in some areas shows lava flows from the active volcanoes.

Example of tessera on Venus
Example of tesserae on Venus

Also notable are the tesserae, which are highly deformed and fractured terrain that is believed to have been created through tectonic processes. You can see an example on the right, which clearly shows the scars from the overlaps of tectonic plates.


Another intriguing feature is the faint, mysterious dark streaks that have been observed in some areas, whose origin and composition are still not fully understood.


 

What is the Weather Like on Planet Venus?



Venus is the hottest planet in the solar system with a surface temperature that can reach up to 470°C (880°F). The temperature is constant in most areas of the planet, and there is not much difference in temperatures between day and night.

The heat is high because it is trapped due to the planet's greenhouse effect. This occurs due to the atmosphere's thickness and because the planet rotates very slowly.


Below is a temperature map of the southern hemisphere of Venus released by ESA. It was created using data from over a thousand individual images taken by the Venus Express spacecraft. The images were taken from a distance of about 60,000 km, and with a specific infrared wavelength that can see through the thick clouds. It shows the surface temperature of the planet, with different colors that represent different temperature ranges. You can see that the temperature on Venus is not uniform, with some areas being much hotter than others.


Venus Temperature map
Venus Temperature map in Kelvin - Credit: ESA

Venus has an axial tilt of about 2.6 degrees, which is much less than that of Earth (23.4 degrees). This means that the planet experiences very little seasonal variation, hence why the temperature and weather patterns are constant throughout the year.


The atmosphere on Venus produces a phenomenon known as super-rotation, where the atmosphere rotates much faster than the planet itself. This often allows extremely powerful winds to form, that blow in the same direction as the planet's rotation and reach 300 miles per hour. On top of that, the planet also sees lightning storms and acid rain.


The weather on Venus makes it very challenging for probes and landers to study, but we'll talk about this further below when we cover the missions to Venus!


Learn more about the planets in order from the sun.


 

Hubble Space Telescope Image of Venus


Released on March 21, 1995, the image you see below shows Venus taken by the Hubble Space Telescope taken just a couple of months earlier.


The picture is an ultraviolet-light image that was taken when Venus was 70.6 million miles (113.6 million kilometers) from Earth.


It shows Venus covered with sulfuric acid clouds, and the shapes are well visible in ultraviolet. You can also notice that the planet was in a phase that looked about 35% illuminated.


Mars by NASA and the Hubble Space Telescope

 

Missions to Venus


Probes have been sent to study Venus since the 1960s. Below, you will find the missions to Venus that had the biggest impact on our understanding of the planet, with a short description and the year they launched.


Venera (1961-1984)


Venera Missions to Venus
Venera Lander Illustration

The Venera missions were a series of 16 missions to Venus directed by the Soviet Union. The missions included both orbiters and landers, with the later missions providing the most detailed data on the Venusian surface. Venera 7 was the first spacecraft to land on another planet and transmit data back to Earth, and Venera 13 and Venera 14 provided the most detailed data on the Venusian surface.



Mariner 2 (1962)

Viking mars Spacecraft
Mariner 2 Spacecraft

Mariner 2 was NASA's first successful mission to Venus. It launched in 1962, and was the first spacecraft to make a successful flyby of another planet!


Mariner 2 also was able to get the first close-up observations of Venus.




Magellan (1989-1994)


Venus Magellan Mission patch

Launched on May 4th, 1989, Magellan was a NASA mission that orbited Venus from 1990 to 1994.


The spacecraft used radar to map the planet's surface in detail, gathering data and giving us new insights into the geology and surface features of Venus.




Venus Express (2005-2014)


Venus Express Mission Patch

Venus Express was a European Space Agency (ESA) mission that orbited Venus from 2006 to 2014.

The main goal was to study Venus's atmosphere, weather, and surface.

The mission ended in December 2014.



Akatsuki (2015-Ongoing)


Venus by Akatsuki
Venus by Akatsuki - ISAS/JAXA

Akatsuki is a Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) mission that has been orbiting Venus since 2015.


The spacecraft is studying the planet's atmosphere and weather and is especially focusing on Venus's super-rotation (the atmosphere rotates much faster than the planet itself).

Scientists hope to learn more about super-rotation overall and its effects on the planet.



 

Final Thoughts and Summary of the Planet Venus


Venus is the second planet from the Sun and is known for its bright appearance and phases as it orbits around the Sun. This makes Venus a popular target for both visual observers and amateur astrophotographers, although it is not easy to photograph and show details. Venus is often referred to as the "Morning Star" or "Evening Star" depending on its position relative to the Sun, and it does not have any moons.


Venus picture
  • Type: Terrestrial planet

  • Name Origin: Roman goddess of love and beauty

  • Discovered in: Ancient times

  • Radius: 6,051.8 km

  • Temperatures: 462°C on average, the hottest planet in the solar system

  • Distance from Sun: 108 million km (on average)

  • Day: 243 Earth days (slowest in the solar system)

  • Orbit: 225 Earth days

  • Natural Satellites (moons): 0

  • Light speed from Sun: 6.0 min


We hope you learned from this guide, and we will be working on a tutorial post specifically for the astrophotography of Venus in the future!


In the meantime, check out our post explaining the Solar System planets in order.


Clear Skies,

Galactic Hunter



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