Walking on Venus

Feb 16, 2015

Credit clipart.com

This is “Looking UP! in southern Colorado,” from the Colorado Springs Astronomical Society. I’m Hal Bidlack, and there are lots of reasons to look up in the night sky!

The brighter something, the easier it is to see. And while there are lots and lots of great things to look at that are fairly dim, today let’s talk about one of the brightest things you can see in the night sky right now – the planet Venus! Look for Venus shining brilliantly low in the western sky about a half hour after sunset. Colorado Springs listeners will see Venus soaring over Pikes Peak. You can’t miss it – it will be the brightest thing up there.

Venus is the third brightest thing in the sky, after the Sun and the Moon.  Venus orbits second out from the Sun, after the planet Mercury. Because Venus orbits closer to the Sun than the Earth, when you look at it through a telescope it goes through phases, just like our moon does, as it orbits the sun.

Venus is sometimes called Earth’s twin, because they are nearly the same size and mass. But living on Venus would be most unpleasant. Somehow, Venus got turned upside-down and rotates backwards, with the sun rising in the west and setting in the east. While we have 24 hour days on Earth, a day on Venus lasts 243 Earth days. Which makes for a long work week. Venus is covered in a thick atmosphere of carbon dioxide with bright white clouds of sulfuric acid. A planet with a day that never seems to end and where rains acid would be bad enough, but in part because Venus’s atmosphere is over 90 times thicker than the Earth’s, the Sun’s energy is trapped in a runaway Greenhouse effect. The surface temperature can reach nearly 900 degrees Fahrenheit, hot enough to melt lead. To give you a comparison, the spacecraft that landed on Mars lasted for years, but the handful of armored spacecraft that landed on Venus were all destroyed within two hours.

So if you tried to take a walk on Venus, the dense atmosphere would crush you, the heat would bake you, and then acid would rain down on you. Hardly Earth’s twin!

If you’d like to see Venus, or any of the other wonderful and amazing things in the sky, please visit KRCC.org for a link information on our free public star parties! 

This is Hal Bidlack for the Colorado Springs Astronomical Society, telling you to keep looking up, Southern Colorado!