Color photo of family on lake shore with planets and moon in the sky.
Only the Moon is brighter than Venus in the night sky. Venus is the bright dot on the left above the Moon.

The Hottest Planet

Venus is the second planet from our sun. It is Earth's closest neighbor and the second brightest object in our night sky. Only the Moon is brighter.

False color image of Venus' surface.
What would happen on Earth
if thick clouds made it very
hot all the time?

Venus' dazzling beauty at night explains its name. It is named for the Roman goddess of love and beauty. Even though it is so close to Earth, Venus is very mysterious. The surface is hidden beneath hot, poisonous air made up mostly of carbon dioxide. Scientists must use radar to "see" through Venus' clouds. Venus does not have a moon or any rings.

Hot, confusing and pretty much yucky. To get to the surface of Venus, you would have to pass through clouds of sulfuric acid, hurricane-force winds and lightning.

On the ground, it would look like a very hazy, overcast day on Earth. Instead of cooling things down, the clouds on Venus reflect sunlight and trap heat -- a lot like how a greenhouse keeps plants warm. On Venus the "greenhouse effect" is out of control. It can get up to almost 900 degrees Fahrenheit (482 degrees Celsius). It gets hotter than Mercury, the closest planet to the sun.

Venus' atmosphere is so heavy it would feel like you were deep in the ocean. Remember how your head feels when you are at the bottom of a swimming pool? It feels like it is being squeezed. That is pressure. On Venus, the pressure is so strong it would crush you. Even tough metal spacecraft were smashed after a few hours on the surface of Venus.

This is a strange planet. Venus spins backwards so the sun rises in the west and sets in the east. And because the planet rotates so sluggishly, a day on Venus is longer than it takes to go around the sun. Imagine if we switched to Venusian clocks on Earth. A school day would last four months. Ugh.

Almost all the surface features of Venus are named for amazing Earth women. For example, a volcanic crater is named for Sacajawea, the Native American who guided Lewis and Clark's exploration.