>> 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!