Cloudy planet

Venus is the second planet from the Sun, orbiting on average at a distance of 108 million kilometres from the Sun. It is the sixth largest planet, with a diameter of 12 104 km. Venus is sometimes regarded as Earth's sister planet since it is similar in size and mass to Earth. Venus orbits the Sun between Mercury and Earth but it is twice as far as Mercury from the Sun. It comes closer to Earth than any other planet in the solar system.

One of the strange things about Venus is that it spins on its axis in the opposite direction to that of the other terrestrial planets - it seems to be upside down, with its north and south poles reversed. The rotation is thought to be due to a massive impact early in the planet's life.

Venus is thought to have formed at the same time as the other planets in the solar system, about 4.5 billion years ago. Because it is close to the Sun, Venus must have been hot and in a molten state before it cooled to become a solid planet. Out of all the planets, Venus still has the highest surface temperature, even though it is not the closest planet to the Sun. This is mainly because of its noxious atmosphere, which pushes down on the surface with a pressure 92 times that experienced on Earth.

Venus has no natural satellites.

Figure 5.1 Venus as seen from the Pioneer spacecraft in 1978. This ultraviolet photograph shows the circulation pattern of the clouds. The clouds move rapidly from east to west across the planet. (Photo: NASA)
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