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E.T.s may be headed toward Earth, but are we ready for them?

Twenty years from now we might get a call from aliens. In 2017, a powerful radio transmission was aimed at exoplanet GJ 273b, thought to be able to support life. Its message, sent by the alien-hunting group Messaging Extraterrestrial ...

Views of comet Leonard from two sun-watching spacecraft

When Comet Leonard, a mass of space dust, rock and ice about a half-mile (1 kilometer) wide, makes its closest pass of the Sun on Jan. 3, 2022, it will be a journey 40,000 years in the making. Ahead of its close pass, two ...

Ten mysteries of Venus

The surface of Venus is completely inhospitable for life: barren, dry, crushed under an atmosphere about 90 times the pressure of Earth's and roasted by temperatures two times hotter than an oven. But was it always that way? ...

Did Venus ever have oceans?

The planet Venus can be seen as the Earth's evil twin. At first sight, it is of comparable mass and size as our home planet, similarly consists mostly of rocky material, holds some water and has an atmosphere. Yet, a closer ...

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Venus

Venus is the second-closest planet to the Sun, orbiting it every 224.7 Earth days. The planet is named after Venus, the Roman goddess of love. After the Moon, it is the brightest natural object in the night sky, reaching an apparent magnitude of −4.6. Because Venus is an inferior planet from Earth, it never appears to venture far from the Sun: its elongation reaches a maximum of 47.8°. Venus reaches its maximum brightness shortly before sunrise or shortly after sunset, for which reason it is often called the Morning Star or the Evening Star.

Classified as a terrestrial planet, it is sometimes called Earth's "sister planet" because they are similar in size, gravity, and bulk composition. Venus is covered with an opaque layer of highly reflective clouds of sulfuric acid, preventing its surface from being seen from space in visible light. Venus has the densest atmosphere of all the terrestrial planets, consisting mostly of carbon dioxide, as it has no carbon cycle to lock carbon back into rocks and surface features, nor organic life to absorb it in biomass. A younger Venus is believed to have possessed Earth-like oceans, but these totally evaporated as the temperature rose, leaving a dusty dry desertscape with many slab-like rocks. The water has most likely dissociated, and, because of the lack of a planetary magnetic field, the hydrogen has been swept into interplanetary space by the solar wind. The atmospheric pressure at the planet's surface is 92 times that of the Earth.

Venus' surface was a subject of speculation until some of its secrets were revealed by planetary science in the twentieth century. It was finally mapped in detail by Project Magellan in 1990–91. The ground shows evidence of extensive volcanism, and the sulfur in the atmosphere may indicate that there have been some recent eruptions. However, it is an enigma why no evidence of lava flow accompanies any of the visible caldera. There are a low number of impact craters, demonstrating that the surface is relatively young, approximately half a billion years old. There is no evidence for plate tectonics, possibly because its crust is too strong to subduct without water to make it less viscous. Instead, Venus may lose its internal heat in periodic massive resurfacing events.

The adjective Venusian is commonly used for items related to Venus, though the Latin adjective is the rarely used Venerean; the archaic Cytherean is still occasionally encountered. Venus is the only planet in the Solar System named after a female figure,[a] although three dwarf planets – Ceres, Eris and Haumea – along with hundreds of the first discovered asteroids also have feminine names.

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