A sight to see this Valentine’s evening

One of the best things about a clear sky is that we get our night sky views back. This evening, the planet Venus shines brilliantly in the western sky. It’s worth a look!

Named after the Roman goddess of love and beauty, Venus is the only planet with a female name. She’s beautiful, that’s for sure. Just be careful because looks from afar can be deceiving. If you were standing on that planet right now you’d be surrounded by hellish conditions. The environment is so harsh it’s hard to even find space craft that can explore the planet.

Venus is the hottest planet in the solar system. That’s a bit odd, because it’s not the planet closest to the sun. That would be Mercury. Venus is hotter because it’s atmosphere is so thick and so full of Carbon Dioxide that it traps much of the heat that comes to the planet from the sun. You see, a planet need not be close to a star to be warm. They just need an atmosphere that traps heat.

A runaway version of the greenhouse effect causes Venus to be so warm. Because of it’s similar size and shape to Earth, she is considered our sister planet. She even has similar gravity. We hope to learn more about what makes her so warm, so that we can understand our warming planet even better.

Temperatures on Venus can reach at least 800 degrees. That’s a bit toasty!

Venus is covered mostly by plains but there are a great many volcanoes, too. Some of these volcanoes are active today. These volcanoes add enough water vapor to create clouds. These clouds are highly reflective of light and that is one of the main reasons the planet shines so bright in our skies.

Finally, Venus is a bit odd in that she rotates “the wrong way.” I mean, she spins opposite of most planets in the solar system. That means that the sun rises in the west and sets in the east. More mysterious still is the 200 mph winds of the atmosphere that cause clouds to zip around the planet in only four days! Remember, she’s about the same size as Earth.

So, as you gaze up at the beauty of Venus this evening in that western sky just know that she’s full of mystery and wonder.

Calms appear, when Storms are past;
Love will have his Hour at last:
Nature is my kindly Care;
Mars destroys, and I repair;
Take me, take me, while you may,
Venus comes not ev’ry Day.

–John Dryden

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