The planet Venus is named for the Roman goddess of love and beauty. It is the second largest terrestrial planet. It is also the second brightest natural object in the sky. Venus’ apparent magnitude of -3.8 to -4.6 makes it visible on a clear day. Venus’ atmosphere can be divided into two layers: the cloud bank that covers the entire planet and the atmosphere below these clouds. The clouds extend from 50 to 80 kilometers over the planet’s surface and are composed primarily of SO2 and H2SO4. These clouds are so dense that they reflect 60% of the sunlight Venus receives back into space with an atmospheric density of approximately 480° C. This makes Venus’ surface the hottest of all of the planets in the solar system.
Scientists have been able to use the method of radar mapping to acquire images. Using radar mapping with Venus allows microwave radiation to pass through the planet’s thick clouds, whereas photography is unable to do so because of light. The first radar mappings the surface of Venus came via spacecraft came in 1978 when the Pioneer Venus spacecraft began orbiting the planet. The surface was made mostly of plains formed by the flow of ancient lava, with only two highland areas, Ishtar Terra and Aphrodite Terra. These volcanoes, unlike the ones on Earth were formed from an eruption of all of the volcano’s lava at once through a single vent. After such an eruption, the lava then spreads outwardly in a uniform, circular manner. Like the goddess the planet is named after, Venus is composed of passion and turbulent geological features.