It’s time to tune in to these facts about Venus, the third smallest planet in the solar system.

Up until 1610, astronomers believed that the planet Venus orbited the Earth. After developing an improved telescope, the Italian scientist Galileo studied Venus, the brightest natural object in the night sky after the Moon, and observed that the planet went through a series of phases, which led him to the knowledge of its orbit around the Sun.

During daylight hours, the Sun is the only object brighter than Venus, yet Venus can be visible to the naked eye in broad daylight.

    Venus takes its name from the Roman goddess of love and beauty, the only planet named after a female. Venus was considered the “mother of the Roman people.” Her Greek counterpart was Aphrodite. The planet is also referred to as the morning star and the evening star because of its brightness. In fact, the ancients believed it to be two separate heavenly bodies. Because the planet is so visible, the Mayans were recording their detailed observations as early as 650 AD.

    As the second planet from the Sun, (only Mercury is closer), Venus is the hottest planet in the solar system, with a average temperature of 867 degrees F (464 degrees C), hot enough to melt lead. Its thick atmosphere is full of gasses such as carbon dioxide and sulfuric acid that trap heat that keeps the planet hot. Although closer to the sun, Mercury has a very thin atmosphere, with an average temperature of just 332 degrees F (167 C).

    Venus and Earth are very similar in size, with Venus just a bit smaller, with its surface area about 90% that of Earth. Venus has an unusual orbit, as it spins in the opposite direction of Earth and most other planets, known as a retrograde rotation. Its axis rotation is very slow, taking 243 Earth days to complete just one day on Venus. Its orbit around the sun is once every 225 Earth days. This means a day on Venus (rotation on its axis) is longer than a year there (orbit around the Sun.)

Venus is home to more than 1,600 major volcanoes across its surface, with 167 of those more than 60 miles (100 km) across.    None are known to    be currently erupting, possibly long extinct. There is evidence of phosphide, a form of phosphorus brought to the surface in explosive ways, in Venus’ atmosphere, perhaps indicating some kind of recent activity.

    The highest mountain on Venus is Skadi Mons, a peak in the Maxwell Montes range, a mountain that rises 37,795 feet (11,520 m). Compare this with Earth’s highest, Mt. Everest, with a height of 29,032 feet (8,849 m).

The Mariner 2 was the first spacecraft to complete a successful mission to another planet, flying by Venus in December, 1962. Four years later, Russia’s Venera 3 carrying a radio communication system and scientific instruments was launched with an intended mission of landing on Venus. Its systems failed before it reached the planet, and it’s believed it crashed onto the surface of Venus on March 1, 1966.