Bands of clouds sweep around Venus in this ultraviolet view from above one of the planet's poles by the Venus Express orbiter. Clouds blanket the entire planet, contributing to the planet's super-heated surface temperatures. [ESA/VIRTIS/INAF-IASF/Obs. de Paris-LESIA]
The solar system is offering a nice treat for the holiday weekend: a conjunction between the Moon and the planet Venus. This evening, look for them quite low in the southwest beginning not long after sunset. Venus is the brilliant “evening star” to the left of the crescent Moon.
Venus is one of the most beautiful objects in the night sky. In fact, it was named for the Roman goddess of love and beauty. Yet it’s one of the least beautiful places to visit you’ll ever come across.
Its surface is wrapped in a thick, toxic atmosphere. The pressure at the surface is about 90 times greater than the pressure at the surface of Earth. And the atmosphere is made of carbon dioxide, which traps heat, roasting the planet with an average surface temperature of around 850 degrees Fahrenheit.
The atmosphere is topped by an unbroken layer of bright clouds, which help make Venus such a beautiful sight. But they, too, are nasty — they’re made of tiny droplets of sulfuric acid. Anything that goes through the clouds needs pretty good shielding to survive.
So even though Venus is our closest planetary neighbor, only a few spacecraft have ever landed there — and none of them has survived for more than about an hour. They confirm that Venus’s beauty is best admired from afar.
And you can admire that beauty for about 90 minutes after sunset right now. Venus is to the left of the Moon this evening, and well below it tomorrow evening. More tomorrow.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2011
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