Stargazers all over are being asked, “What is that bright object in the sky where the Sun set? It looks like a UFO!” I was even called out in several Facebook “posts” about what the heck is that bright light over yonder…a friend pleading “Hey, MarQ are you out there?” Well I answered that Facebook thread with the answer everyone has been waiting for…Venus!
Definitely the most mistaken object in the sky, even President Jimmy Carter once reported it as a UFO. So don’t feel bad if you thought it was one too, Facebook family!
Sometimes in the morning sky and sometimes in the evening, ancient stargazers thought this “star” was two objects, the brilliant white light said to be the personification of everything female, pure and motherly
Visually stunning in these evenings of late Winter 2017 to our naked eyes, Venus is a fingernail crescent when seen in any telescope. Even a good pair of binoculars held steady can reveal the planetary crescent—first seen by Galileo in 1609 and proof that the planet was between the Earth and Sun.
Contrasted against buildings, trees and mountains, Venus can look like it’s quickly moving as the Earth’s rotation takes it toward the horizon. During rush hour drive time, Venus can be almost shocking when seen outside the windshield. Often mistaken for an airplane, the kaleidoscope of colors can be intense as the planet’s light is bounced around Earth’s atmosphere.
The light is filtered through the Earth’s atmosphere and the lower an object is the more air it’s traveling through. High overhead a star or planet is shining through 20 miles of atmosphere. But when low, Venus’ light is stretching across the entire horizon and up to 100 miles of atmosphere.
The brightness of Venus is created by sunlight bouncing like a mirror off its thick, global cloud deck. And, like a search light beaming across the 28 millions of miles of cosmic ocean, we humans are beckoned to look up.
So bright is Venus’ light that it can cast a shadow! But you have to find a super dark observing place.
Remarkably like Earth in size and weight, the atmosphere and surface of Venus couldn’t be more different. At 7,520 miles wide, it is just 400 miles less then Earth.
Venus is more like Earth’s evil twin, extremely weird with a “day” that is longer than its year and a surface that would melt lead! While it orbits the Sun every 224 days, the time from sunrise to sunrise is 243 of our days. How’s that possible?
Venus rotates backwards…that’s right backwards!
Venus rotates clockwise while orbiting the Sun in a counterclockwise direction (as seen from the celestial north), while almost all the planets, their moons and even the Sun all rotate on their axis in a counter-clockwise direction. Uranus, the giant seventh planet, is actually knocked over on its side and it rolls around the Sun like a wheel.
Venus makes 13 solar orbits in 8 earth years. This cycle was known to the ancient Mayan and Babylonian astronomers, who had special celebrations every eight years for their goddess of love.
The symbol for Venus is the universal symbol for woman—a circle with an attached cross at the bottom.
Venus was the Roman goddess of love. In Greece, she was Aphrodite, the erotic lover; Ancient Chinese called the star the “Grand White,” a color thought to be unlucky or ghostly.
Many cultures thought Venus was different objects appearing in the evening and morning. It was bi-sexual Ishtar in ancient Mesopotamia—a woman when in the evening twilight, and a man when in the morning.
What wasn’t known by the ancient stargazers is that Venus is one weird and unique lady.
That envelope of clouds up to 40 miles thick is four layers and rains down corrosive sulfuric acid. However, that toxic moisture never reaches the surface, as it evaporates in the lower atmosphere from the intense 900 degree heat caused by the runaway greenhouse effect of the cloud system.
Talk about global warming…everywhere on Venus is hot as hell. Imagine a world our size where there is no escape from a constant 860 degree F. heat day and night!
What that does after millions of years is create a landscape of soft rocks where an ominous orange glow of sunlight is reflected around the surface by the tent-like clouds. There is no night on Venus, just an eerie glow like earthly twilight.
When spacecraft radar piercing imagery saw through the dense clouds, the globe itself was discovered to be covered with thousands of volcanoes of various types. The surface is incredibly level with no ocean-like depressions and just two continents, Ishtar Terra and Aphrodite Terra, named for the Babylonian and Greek goddesses of love. Lava rivers flow across the surface that has heated rocks flattened like cow patties. All the features of Venus have female names.
With today’s 21st Century facts it is hard to believe that until the 1960s, Venus was thought to have a surface of lush, jungle-like vegetation with abundant water and live organisms.
What changed all that thinking?
American and Russian space programs practiced their infant rocket and satellite designs on interplanetary trajectories to Venus and Mars in the 1960s. The Soviets really got obsessed with Venus, first thinking they’d find alien life, then sending some of the heartiest spacecraft ever built to land on a surface as hot as a blast furnace.
Four successful Venera landers in the 1970s sent back our only images of the bizarre Venusian surface. We actually saw those vignettes of four alien landscapes before visualizing the entire, volcanic global mayhem.
NASA sent spacecrafts called Pioneer and Mariner for flybys of the planet in the 1960s and ’70s, revealing a few of Venus’ secrets. But it was the versatile orbiter of the 1990s called Magellan that spent years sending back data about Earth’s crazy sister.
What made Venus the hellish world it is? There are plenty of theories. Could Venus be a model of runaway global warming on Earth? Maybe. That’s why we need to know more.
Venus has about a month to grace our evening skies. In April, it will pop up in the pre-dawn sky. So tonight, take a different look at Venus as it lingers high in the early evening sky. UFO? Airplane? It’s a planet!
Remember, planetary crazy Venus isn’t the beautiful lady we see from Mother Earth.