8 Surreal Images of Venus

All of the planets in our solar system

NASA / JPL

Venus, the second planet from the sun, is named for the Roman goddess of beauty and love.

While eerily beautiful, the surface of Venus is as hostile as the deepest recesses of space. Wrapped in thick clouds of sulfuric acid, the planet's surface simmers under a seemingly impenetrable atmosphere, yet the planet once boasted an Earth-like atmosphere millions of years ago.

The planet remains largely a mystery, though Japan's Akatuski mission is slowly pulling back the veil. Akatuski, which means "dawn" in Japanese, launched in 2010 and entered Venus' orbit in 2015. The mission is studying weather patterns, confirming the presence of lightning in thick clouds, and searching for signs of active volcanism.

We still have a lot to learn about our closest planetary neighbor in our solar system, shown here as a montage minus dwarf planet Pluto.

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Hemispheric view

Photo: NASA/JPL/USGS

NASA sent the Magellan spacecraft to Venus in 1990. For the next four years, Magellan took pictures of more than 98 percent of the planet. This hemispheric view is color-coded to illustrate elevation. Magellan showed that Venus has a "relatively young" surface, making it only 300 million to 600 million years old. Venus doesn't experience plate tectonics and shifting as Earth does. Pressure builds until the planet effectively recycles its crust. Some experts think Venus may completely resurface itself every few hundred million years.

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As captured by Mariner 10

Photo: NASA

In the early 1970s, NASA sent Mariner 10 past Venus. In 1974, the probe returned the first close-up image of the planet. In this image, Venus has been color-enhanced to show what it would look like to the human eye. Here you can see the clouds of carbon dioxide enshrouding the planet, where temperatures can reach as high as 900 degrees Fahrenheit. Despite its inhospitable climate, the planet is known as Earth's "twin" as it is also a terrestrial planet that is just smaller than our home world.

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Crater farm

Photo: NASA

Like most planets, Venus has impact craters dotting its surface. However, it has fewer impact craters than other planets like Mercury, largely due to its young surface. Because of this, Venus also has a large amount of craters in "pristine" condition. This photo, taken by Magellan, shows a three-dimensional colored view of a crater farm on the planet’s surface.

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Global view

Photo: SSV, MIPL, Magellan Team, NASA

This global view of Venus is created through data from the Magellan, Pioneer and Venera missions. This look from several spacecrafts displays the northern hemisphere of the planet.

By watching the changes of Venus through his telescope, Galileo came to his groundbreaking conclusion that Venus orbits around the sun. This was revolutionary for the time, as most believed that the sun and all planets revolved around the Earth. When Venus is seen from the Earth, it is the brightest planet in the sky.

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Cloud structure

Photo: NASA

In 1978, NASA sent the Pioneer Venus Orbiter to study Venus for more than 10 years. This image shows the extensive cloud cover of the planet. Scientists believe that Venus once contained water and could have been quite similar to Earth a billion years ago. But the most powerful greenhouse gas effect in the solar system has rendered the planet a wasteland of toxicity. Because the atmosphere is mostly carbon dioxide, heat is trapped on the planet's surface. This means that Venus is hotter than Mercury, despite Mercury's closer proximity to the sun.

Despite this, there's still a question about whether the clouds of Venus could still harbor life.

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Maat Mons

Photo: NASA/JPL

According to NASA, Venus is mostly covered in flat lands. However, it still has valleys and roughly six grand regions of mountains. Venus shows evidence of active volcanoes. This is an image of Maat Mons, a volcano that extends five miles high. Named for the Egyptian goddess of truth and justice, Maat Mons is revealed here by the Magellan spacecraft. NASA points out that lava flows extend from the volcano across the plains in the foreground.

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As seen from Earth

Photo: ESO/Y. Beletsky [CC BY 2.0]/Flickr

This photo shows Venus shining brightly alongside the moon as seen from the European Space Observatory in Chile. Venus is brighter than any other planet or star. In fact, when the planet is at its brightest, you can see it in the daytime. NASA points out that Venus is so bright that ancient people called its morning appearance "Phosphorus," while naming its evening showing "Hesperus." It was only later that astronomers realized the two were the same.

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Hostile planet

Photo: NASA/SDO, AIA [CC by 2.0]/Flickr

When Earth and Venus are at their closest points, they are only 23.7 million miles apart. Nonetheless, our sister planet remains a mystery. Several spacecrafts have been sent to the surface, but the planet’s extreme temperatures and high pressure inevitably disable and crush the crafts soon after landing.

Until then, Venus will continue to fascinate, as this image of the transit of Venus across the sun's path amplifies. This event happens in pairs eight years apart that are separated from each other by 105 or 121 years. The one shown here was in 2012. The previous transit was in 2004 and the next will not happen until 2117.