Stargazing: A fine display of the brightest planet | Lifestyles

IF YOU’VE BEEN watching the western sky after sunset for the last few months, you’ve probably noticed a very bright star-like object hovering above the horizon. That brilliant beacon is Venus, the brightest object in the sky after the sun and moon. It is sometimes called the morning or evening star because of its proximity to the rising or setting sun, and people sometimes mistake it for a UFO when it’s at its most brilliant.

Venus is sometimes known as Earth’s sister planet because of its similar size, but perhaps it should be called Earth’s terrible twin instead. Its thick atmosphere consists of carbon dioxide and sulfuric acid, which trap the sun’s heat causing surface temperatures of nearly 900 degrees F, hot enough to melt lead. It also features crushing atmospheric pressures around 90 times greater than Earth’s. For comparison, that’s the pressure felt about 3,000 feet below the ocean surface. There is no doubt Venus is inhospitable to humans, but it still holds many secrets as recent studies have shown that it might have contained surface water and hospitable conditions in its history.

Earlier this year, NASA approved two new missions to study Venus. They are DAVINCI+ (Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry and Imaging) and VERITAS (Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography and Spectroscopy). DAVINCI+ will study the Venusian atmosphere to learn how it formed while VERITAS will map the planet’s surface to uncover its geologic history. Both missions are expected to launch about 2028–30, as we aim to learn about how Venus became the blast furnace planet it is today.

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