>> Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Have I ever mentioned that Venus was my favorite planet? I mean, aside from the one I live on? Pretty. Jewel-like, in many ways, our earth's twin. Venus.

Venus is beautiful, only a fraction smaller than our planet and the closest one to us, a just a step nearer the sun. There are volcanoes on Venus but no moon (though one was repeatedly observed early on - read about it here) and it can generally be seen with the naked eye (often called "The Evening Star"). It is, in fact, the brightest object in the night besides the sun and moon.

But it's isn't friendly. The temperature is over 450 degrees C and the pressure is 90 times our own. Carbon dioxide predominates in that atmosphere leading to a runaway greenhouse effect that makes the surface, hidden shyly beneath thick sulfurous clouds, an inferno.

Unlike our planet, cloaked with a strong magnetic field second only to Jupiter's, Venus has no magnetic field. It also rotates backwards and very very slowly. It takes 243 days for it to rotate once about its axis. In fact, it rotates so slowly, the day is more than 18 days longer than a Venusian year. (The orbit, itself, is not retrograde, though it is the most circular of all the planets' orbits.) Venus approaches closer than any other planet to Earth and, for reasons we're not entirely sure of, always shows us the same face.

The real question, I think, for many of us science, space and science fiction geeks is, was it always like that? Did it once have water, perhaps life before either its position, its atmosphere or some cataclysm changed the dynamic?

I don't know when, if ever, we'll know about life or if it changed for some specific reason, but we're figuring out the answer to if it ever had water today, thanks to ESA's Venus Express (and here), we are gathering data that tells us that Venus did once have considerably more water than it has now.

Fascinating stuff, Venus. By the way, in 2012 we'll have another transit of Venus, where Venus travels right between the Earth and the Sun. Although it happened in 2004, it's a rare occurance, once we won't see again until 2117. Check it out!


  • Project Savior

    Cool thing about Venus, so to speak, is in its upper atmosphere where the atmosphere is roughly the same as Earth, the microbes that live around volcanic vents on Earth would be able to survive if they had a place to "stand".
    As inhospitable as it is Venus might well have life similar to life found here on Earth in that region of the atmosphere.

  • Stephanie Barr

    Well, and when we talk about life being "possible," we're really talking about life as we know it.

    There's a hell of a lot we don't know.

  • The Mother

    2012, you say? So that's how the earth is destroyed. All the women are pulled magnetically toward their home planet, and when we all end up on one side, it tips the earth, and....

  • Stephanie Barr

    Only if we show off our boobs. We forgot that during the last transit in 2004.

  • Relax Max

    Yes, I have noticed that Venus is your favorite planet.

    I don't know whether to subscribe to the theory of planetary evolution which would say Venus is "better" now than it has ever been, or if I believe it was once a paradise which was screwed over by it's inhabitants' version of global warming. I tend to think it has always been a hell planet ever since the big boom flung it out into the universe.

    Venus doesn't inspire me like it does you, but it does make me stop and realize what a fragile and rare jewel Earth is, and it makes (even) me want to take better care of our own planet.

  • Stephanie Barr

    And a very healthy reaction that is, Relax Max.

  • Shakespeare

    Fascinating stuff, this.

    What about the other (not-so-favorite) planets? My favorite is Saturn.

  • Jeff King

    Truly Fascinating Stuff… love this post.

  • Stephanie Barr

    Shakespeare, I addressed Saturn here.

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