Last Sunday, our corner of the night sky was graced with a full moon called a “Tiny Hunter”. Tiny, because the moon was at the furthest point in its elliptical orbit. Hunter, because this time of year harvested fields leave few places for animals to hide. (Add a full moon and the hunting’s even easier). When our Tiny Hunter rose in the east that night, it was as if a giant flashlight switched on in the heavens, blotting out a typically starry night. But I know it didn’t blot out everything. Venus, beckoning brightly to the west, was saying hey, this is my party too.
Next to the moon, Venus is the brightest bulb in the night sky. Even if you don’t know where she sits, you can find her by simply scanning the western horizon at dusk or eastern at dawn for the most brilliant pinpoint of light. As if outshining all of the stars isn’t enough, Venus is also the most vivid planet. Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter occasionally make an appearance, but Venus always seems to be there. Even in broad daylight.
I’m not gonna lie; Venus gives me a bit of a girl crush. After all, she’s the Roman goddess of love and beauty. Now consider her other “outstanding” attributes:
- She’s the only planet in our solar system to identify as female.
- She’s referred to as our “sister planet”, not only because she’s our closest neighbor, but because she’s virtually the same size.
- She rotates in the opposite direction of seven of the eight planets (including Earth).
- She hosts two continents: Ishtar Terra (named after the Babylonian goddess of love), and Aphrodite Terra (named after the Greek goddess of love).
- Her rotation is so slow, a day in her world is longer than a year in ours. But, a year in her world is shorter than that same day. Say what? You read that right: Venus completes a trip around the sun faster than she completes a rotation on her own axis.
- Her orbit is closer to the shape of a circle (vs. an ellipse) than all other planets.
- She has no moons or rings. Naturally, why would the goddess of love and beauty need adornments?
No wonder the Babylonians referred to Venus as “bright queen of the sky”, eh?
Given her allure, it’s a wonder our earthly culture hasn’t done more to embrace her. I went in search of homage to Venus and here’s all I could come up with:
- Sandro Botticelli’s iconic “The Birth of Venus” (top left), with our girl posed unashamedly naked on a seashell.
- Vincent van Gogh’s post-impressionist “The Starry Night” (top center), with Venus as the bright “star” just to the right of the cypress tree.
- The Bible’s Song of Songs (fitting, if you know the book’s subject matter), Chapter 6, Verse 10.
- John Gray’s bestselling relationship guide, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.
- Gillette’s “Venus” line of women’s shaving products.
- The “Venus” women’s clothing line (catalog arrived for my wife just last week).
- A nasty-looking fly-trapping plant.
- Frankie Avalon’s adoring anthem “Venus” (Hey, Venus… oh, VENUS…).
- Shocking Blue’s psychedelic rock hit “Venus” (I’m your Venus… I’m your fire, at your desire…).
If that’s the extent of our tribute to Venus, no wonder we have the phrase “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”. Venus shows her not-so-lovely side if she wants to. She’s the hottest planet in the solar system (including Mercury), with an average surface temperature of 863 degrees F (462 C). Her atmospheric pressure is 92 times stronger than Earth’s (which is why her surface is beautifully crater-free). She’s covered in a thick layer of sulfuric acid clouds. Her wind speeds are extraordinarily high. And she’s explosive, with a long history of volcanic activity.
Scientists believe – 700 million years ago under drastically different conditions – Venus was temperate enough to host oceans of water and life itself. So…, what in God’s name happened to make her so nasty now? Whatever it was, even our most advanced spacecraft can’t land on her surface today (though we’re working on it).
Considering this brief education on Venus, I suggest you ignore her siren song and simply admire her from afar. Even if you could speed your car along an interstellar highway, you’d need over forty years to get to Earth’s twisted sister. No; stay on her good side lest she show her surface temperatures and atmospheric pressures. That wouldn’t go well for you. I’d rather look Medusa in the eye and be turned to stone.