40 million kilometers away, far from our home planet, in between the Earth and the sun, illuminating our eyes and minds, there’s the shining Venus. Venus, the sister planet of Earth, is the second planet of the solar system. It has almost the same size as that of our home planet. That is why it is named Earth’s twin. ‘Venus’ is a Latin word, which means ‘the loved one.’ The name is borne in Roman mythology by the goddess of love and beauty. Venus is not only the hottest but also the brightest planet of the solar system.
But why is Mercury not the brightest planet despite being the closest to the sun? Why does Venus glitter the most? A miracle? The first reason astronomers give is that Venus is the closest planet from Earth (that’s why we see it as the brightest object). Secondly, there are layers of thick clouds of gases around Venus. When the sun pours its shine on these thick clouds, these clouds reflect 70% of the rays. Due to this phenomenon, Venus is seen as the brightest object after the Moon in the sky.
But stop! The hypocrisy of Venus can easily catch you in its trap. Yes, this beautiful planet has terrible facts in its heart. Crossing the 250 kilometers layer of thick clouds of gases, one sees its surface, which always exhibits lava. The rain of sulfuric acid on Venus seems to be ordinary. Storms with a speed of 360 Km/h welcome spacecraft on Venus. This speed is more than a speed of Hurricane five, which is an extreme category storm on the Earth and blows with a speed of 250 kmph. In spite of all these conditions, some scientists still believe in the possibility of life on Venus.
Some scientists believe that somewhere in the clouds of Venus, there are certain conditions that support the concept of life on the hottest planet. But on its surface, the conditions are so harsh that one cannot even imagine the notion. The atmospheric pressure on Earth is 14.7 pounds per square inch (PSI), but it is 1300 Psi on Venus, which is almost 90% more than that on Earth. Oxygen is a necessary aspect of life, but on Venus, the percentage of oxygen is extremely low while that of carbon dioxide is 96% in the air of Venus. So, one may live in the high clouds of Venus rather than on its low surface.
But living on Venus would be a great experience. One may celebrate one’s birthday twice a day! The reason to celebrate the birthday twice in a day is behind the slow rotation of Venus around its axis. Interestingly, one year of Venus is less than its one day. Before completing its one rotation around its axis, it completes one revolution around the sun in 225 (Earth) days. The mystery behind the rise of the sun in the west (on Venus) lies in its retrograde rotation. All the planets of the solar system rotate anti-clockwise around their axis, but Venus completes its rotation around its axis in a clockwise direction. Certainly a different planet from the Earth!
But Venus was not always like this. Once, it used to be like our Earth. Billions of years ago, when the solar system came into being, Earth and Venus were alike. Gradually, Venus moved closer towards the Sun and became hotter and hotter. The layers of clouds became thicker and its temperature reached to its present 471-degree centigrade. The presence of granite on the surface of Venus, which requires a lot of water to form on the Earth, clearly supports the argument that once Venus was, in fact, as the Earth!
In 1966, the USSR started a Venera program to study the brightest planet of the solar system. Venera III, one of the milestones of Venera’s mission, did a failed landing on the surface of Venus on March 1, 1966. It was an unmanned mission. Venera III was unable to survive the conditions of Venus and was destroyed. Similarly, Venera IV, V and VI were also unsuccessful in conveying useful information. Venera VII was somewhat successful in bearing the atmospheric conditions of Venus and survived for 23 minutes. Venera IX gave the first-ever picture of Venus’s surface. NASA’s Pioneer mission also gained a huge success in mapping Venus’s surface as it conveyed that Venus has a mountain higher than Everest’s peaks and a chasm deeper than the Grand Canyon.
A balloon or a long-lived lander, the mystery remains in closure. After 1989, NASA’s Magellan is now considering bringing ‘back-to-Venus’ mission. Different news reports convey different information about the mission’s landing. Tracy Gregg, a planetary geologist at the University at Buffalo and U.S. co-chair of the binational science definition committee for Venera-D, “The earliest possible launch date we’d be looking at is 2026, and who knows if we could meet that.” According to a report, NASA will also begin studying a Venus Flagship mission in preparation for the upcoming planetary science decadal survey.
2026 or 2036, let’s hope and imagine the lander’s bottom passionately kissing Venus’ surface!