Happy second night of Chanukah! Ready or not, here are eight facts you may or may not know about Venus, the second planet from the sun:
1) Venus was the first planet to be visited from Earth, when Mariner 2 flew within about 22,000 miles in December 1962. Mariner 2 is still orbiting the sun.
2) Venus is the only planet in the solar system that rotates backward — from east to west, which is clockwise as seen from above its north pole.
3) This means, if its atmosphere weren’t so heavy (50 times denser than Earth’s! 92 times the surface pressure of Earth’s), hot (almost 900 degrees Fahrenheit!), opaque, and poisonous (carbon dioxide! sulphuric acid!), a person reading relaxing with a cup of coffee and the morning paper on Venus would see the sun, stars, and everything else in the sky rise in the west and set in the east. Backward, like I said.
4) It’s the third brightest thing in the sky after the sun and the moon. In some places, it’s sometimes bright enough to cast shadows, and it can be seen in the clear midday blue if you know where to look.
5) In the mid-1960s, during the Apollo program, NASA considered a manned trip to fly by Venus, which would have launched in 1973 using Apollo hardware, and lasted about a year. From time to time, there have been other trips planned as well, but none have been launched.
6) It takes about 225 earth days for Venus to orbit the sun once, but 243 earth days for it to rotate once as measured relative to the stars (the slowest rotation of any planet). This means that one day on Venus is longer than its year.
7) Venus can sometimes, on rare occasions, be seen transiting, crossing the face of the sun as seen from the earth. This is similar to when the moon crosses in front of the sun, eclipsing it. The last transit of Venus was in 2012. The next one won’t be until 2117.
8) There used to be water on Venus, but it has all boiled away and been blown into space by the solar wind.