In ancient times Venus was named after the Roman Goddess of love and beauty. And it is fitting being the brightest of all the planets visible from Earth. Venus certainly fits the bill.Venus is the second planet out from the Sun, it lies between Earth and Mercury. Its orbit is the most circular of the planets remaining at just over 108 million km from the Sun.It is the closest planet to Earth.It goes around the Sun once every 224 days. But it spins very slowly on its axis, only once every 243 days. A Venusian day is longer than a Venusian year!The rotation of Venus is only 6.5km/h at the equator. On Earth it is 1,600km/h.Also uniquely out of all the planets, Venus is the only Planet that spins in the opposite direction, from East to West.On Venus the Sun would rise in the west and stay in the sky for a year before setting in the east.It is slightly smaller than Earth, with a rocky surface but it is completely covered in a thick blanket of cloud of 96% carbon dioxide.This cloud cover is causing a runaway green house effect on the surface, where the temperature is over 460°C hotter than Mercury.The clouds also prevent us seeing the surface, but over 20 probes have visited the planet so far, and, using radar images we are able to see right through the clouds.Astronomers believed that Venus was a twin sister of Earth as the size was very similar, but unfortunately it has been found that Venus is very inhospitable, and probably the least likely planet to support life. The first probe to visit Venus was Mariner 2 in 1962. Venus express is currently in orbit around the planet sending back masses of information.One or two probes have even landed on Venus but have not lived long under the tremendous heat and pressure.The pressure at the surface is 90 atmospheres, about the same pressure you would feel 1km under the Earth's oceans.The surface has high mountains and deep valleys and many large meteorite impact craters.Any water that may have been on Venus has long been boiled away.Because Venus is an inferior planet, that is it lies between the Earth and the Sun, we get to see it displaying phases, similar to those of the Moon.But when it is at its furthest from the Sun to the east or west, it is the brightest object in the sky after the Moon.It shines so brightly that it has often been mistaken for a U.F.O.When we see it after sunset it is known as ‘the evening star' and before sunrise ‘the morning star'.On very rare occasions, Venus passes directly in front of the Sun, causing what is known as a ‘transit of Venus'.A transit of Venus has only been observed 6 times in over 400 hundred years.The very first observation of a transit of Venus was in 1639 by English astronomer Jeremiah Horrocks.The next transit of Venus will be in 2012, but after that you will have to wait until 2117 or rather your grandchildren will.
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