We owe our view of Venus's surface mainly to the Magellan space probe, which used radar in the early 1990s to see through the clouds and map the planet. Magellan was the most successful of the 20-plus probes that have investigated Venus in the past 40 years. They have flown by it, orbited around it, and landed on it; surviving the corrosive clouds, surface heat, and strong surface
Venus shines brightly in Earth's sky because of its reflective cloud-top surface, and because of the planet's closeness to us. At its brightest, Venus is magnitude —4.7 and is then only outshone by the Sun and Moon. It goes through a cycle of phases like the Moon. When close to Earth, only part of the planet facing us is lit. Venus is best seen at greatest elongation; either in the evening sky, after sunset, when it is shrinking from half phase to crescent, or in the morning, before sunrise, when growing from crescent to half phase.
Venus is easy to spot with the naked eye. Its bright presence at the start or end of the day has earned it the nicknames Morning Star and Evening Star. Its brightness and apparent size vary with time.
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