Venus creates twilight spectacle
(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.
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.
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