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Venus creates twilight spectacle

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(CNN) -- Venus reached its brightest level this year on Thursday, outshining any other star or planet by a magnitude of seven or more.

Venus is often misidentified for a star, an airplane and even an extraterrestrial craft. The planet is probably the most frequently reported unidentified flying object, said NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

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Venus' brightness is not because of its size. The planet is slightly smaller than Earth. Rather its brightness is due partly to location. Venus is usually our nearest neighbor and it has clouds that reflect back almost 75 percent of the sunlight that reaches the planet.

The same thick clouds that shroud the planet also contribute to a hellish greenhouse effect. The surface temperature sizzles at 860 F (460 C), hotter than even Mercury, the closest planet to the sun. The conditions are hot enough to liquefy lead.

The planet is most inhospitable in other ways. Corrosive mists of sulfuric acid float through the carbon dioxide atmosphere. And the air pressure is 90 times greater than the atmosphere on Earth. The terrain is riddled with craters and volcanoes, but the planet is devoid of water. When Russian landers ventured to the planet in the 1970s, they quickly disintegrated.

Yet the planet named for the Roman goddess of love is rather pleasant from a distance. Earth-bound observers can see the planet in a picturesque formation with the crescent moon Sunday right after sunset.

Telescope users can see what Galileo first spotted four centuries ago, Venus shining as a crescent. Like the moon, the planet has a full range of phases. Yet the naked eye only discerns Venus a bright point of light.

 Planet Profile for Venus

The second planet from the Sun and the sixth largest in the solar system, Venus boasts an orbit more nearly circular than any of its peers. Its diameter and mass are only slightly less than those of what some consider its sister planet, Earth.

  • Orbiting distance: 67 million miles (108 million km)

  • Diameter: 7,500 miles (12,000 km)

  • Rotation period: 243 Earth days

  • Revolution period: 224 Earth days

  • Mean surface temperature: 847 F (453 C)

  • Highest point: Maxwell Montes (17 km above surface)

  • Atmosphere: 96 percent carbon dioxide, 3 percent nitrogen, trace water vapor

Source: NASA



RELATED STORIES:
Sun flips magnetic field
February 16, 2001
Study suggests Venus could have been wet planet
January 25, 2001
Solar shock wave causes surprise aurora display
April 7, 2000

RELATED SITES:
NASA
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center

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