Glossary term: Venus

Also known as morning star or evening star

Description: Venus is the second closest planet to the Sun. Often called the Earth's twin it is a rocky, terrestrial planet with a radius a little greater than 6000 kilometers (km), about 95% of the Earth's radius. It has a mass of 0.815 times the mass of the Earth. The atmosphere of Venus is 90 times denser than Earth’s. It is mainly composed of carbon dioxide, together with thick clouds of sulfuric acid that shroud the entire surface. The thick atmosphere produces a very strong greenhouse effect, which results in a surface temperature of 460 degrees Celsius.

Its typical distance from the Sun is 108 million kilometers, about 0.72 astronomical units (Earth–Sun distances). It takes 224.7 days to complete one orbit. Venus takes a long time to rotate once along its axis with respect to the distant stars; one such Venus day corresponds to 243 Earth days. This is longer than the time it takes Venus to complete one orbit around the Sun. Venus has no known moons.

Venus is named after the Roman goddess of love. Since Venus is so close to the Sun, it is often visible in the night sky shortly before sunrise or after sunset. On these occasions, Venus is conspicuously bright even when seen with the naked eye, and is traditionally referred to as the morning star or evening star, respectively. With binoculars, Venus can be seen to have phases similar to those of the Moon.

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Term and definition status: This term and its definition have been approved by a research astronomer and a teacher

The OAE Multilingual Glossary is a project of the IAU Office of Astronomy for Education (OAE) in collaboration with the IAU Office of Astronomy Outreach (OAO). The terms and definitions were chosen, written and reviewed by a collective effort from the OAE, the OAE Centers and Nodes, the OAE National Astronomy Education Coordinators (NAECs) and other volunteers. You can find a full list of credits here. All glossary terms and their definitions are released under a Creative Commons CC BY-4.0 license and should be credited to "IAU OAE".

Related Media

The planet Venus showing white clouds enshrouding the planet

Venus in visible light

Caption: This picture taken by NASA's Mariner 10 probe shows what the planet Venus looks like when looking at it with naked eyes. Venus is enshrouded inside a thick cloudy atmosphere dominated by carbon dioxide, never revealing its hot surface.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech credit link

License: PD Public Domain icons

The planet Venus' surface with ridges and valleys

Venus' surface

Caption: This image is a computer-aided rendering of the surface of the planet Venus. Since visual light cannot penetrate the thick clouds in Venus' atmosphere, the image was obtained with radio waves. NASA's space probe Megallan, launched in 1989 mapped Venus' surface between 1990 and 1994.
Credit: NASA/JPL credit link

License: PD Public Domain icons

The bright Moon illuminates a beach. Three bright planets form a line below and to the right of the Moon.

To guard the Stars and the Sea Together

Caption: Winner in the 2022 IAU OAE Astrophotography Contest, category Still images of celestial patterns. This image composition is amazing. In the far background of the landscape we see a chain of mountains that seems to mirror the structure of the Milky Way in the sky above. The strong daylight-like colours of the landscape are caused by the Moon, the bright light at the top of the image. Taken in Kinabalu, Malaysia, in February 2019, this image shows the alignment of planets and the Moon, conveying the idea of the ecliptic as the central line of the Zodiac, the plane within which all planets orbit the Sun. The ecliptic is the central line of the Zodiac, so the region of about five to 10 degrees either side of the ecliptic is where the constellations of the Zodiac are located. Starting from the horizon towards the bottom left of the image we can see the planets Venus, Saturn and Jupiter. The planets have different cultural significance for people around the world, and are deeply embedded in social, religious and practical aspects of life. For example, Wardaman traditions of Indigenous Australians associate the planets with ancestor spirits who traverse the Celestial Road (ecliptic). The appearance and disappearance of planets in the sky are associated with various ceremonies. For example, when Venus starts being the “Morning star” after having been the “Evening star”, this marks the Banumbirr ceremony for the Yolnu people of Arnhem Land, in Australia. The image also shows the constellations Scorpius, Aquila, Lupus and Triangulum Australe, the asterism of the Teapot, and the two pointer stars Alpha and Beta Centauri. The constellations, asterisms and individual stars within them have significance in many different cultures. Malaysia, being close to the equator, has had connections to the north as well as to the south and almost the whole sky is visible over the course of the year. The star Antares is seen by the Kokatha people of the Western Desert as Kogolongo, the red tailed black cockatoo, while the Boorong refer to it as Djuit, the red-rumped parrot. The two stars which form the stinger of Scorpius (Shaula and Lesath), are called Karik Karik, the Australian Kestrel.
Credit: Likai Lin/IAU OAE

License: CC-BY-4.0 Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) icons

Orion appears as an hourglass shape of stars in the bottom of the image. Above Taurus is v-shaped with a small star cluster

Romanian Orion

Caption: Winner in the 2022 IAU OAE Astrophotography Contest, category Still images of celestial patterns.   Taken in Romania in August 2012, this image shows two of the most recognisable constellations in the sky, Orion and Taurus. Orion, the Hunter, is found near the horizon. The most prominent star visible in this image is Betelgeuse, while the asterism of Orion’s belt is formed by three aligned bright stars. Just above Orion we can find Taurus, one of the constellations of the Zodiac. As the Zodiac is inherited from Babylon, The Bull of Heaven represents a mighty but dangerous creature that was defeated by King Gilgamesh and his friend Enkidu. They cut the Bull in half and sacrificed the animal to the gods in order to protect their people. Taurus is also home to the star cluster Pleiades, also known as the Seven Sisters. Two planets are visible: Venus, the bright spot near the fence, and Jupiter, the bright spot at the top, next to the Bull’s face. Different cultures have included the stars of these constellations in their own mythology. The Romanians, for instance, after Christianisation identified four other constellations using some of the stars of Orion and others surrounding it. One such constellation is called Trisfetitele (the Three Saints), which is associated with the three stars comprising Orion's Belt, representing the Three Hierarchs Basil, Gregory and John. This same asterism is also called Three Wise Men, Kings from the East or just Three Kings — all of these names being rooted in the Christian religion. The agricultural calendar, in contrast, led farmers to define two other constellations, the Little Plough and the Sickle. Both are seen in the southern half of the Orion rectangle; the Little Plough is drawn by connecting the southern quadrilateral with Orion’s left shoulder, and the Sickle is formed by connecting Orion’s left foot (Rigel) with the belt stars, forming an arch and completing the form of a hoe. In the cultural calendar, these constellations were used to announce the harvest of wheat/grain. Finally, the fourth Romanian constellation is the Great Auger, where Orion’s belt represents the handle of the auger, and Betelgeuse is the tip, facing towards Pollux in Gemini. This constellation is associated with treasure, as Romanian peasants believe that the Auger points to the treasure when they approach the end of the world. Most of the official star names in Orion are Arabic; Mintaka (meaning “belt”) is at the waist; Alnitak (meaning “girdle”) and Alnilam (meaning “string”) are at the belt; and Rigel (meaning foot) is at the left foot. The star on the left shoulder is named Bellatrix, the Latin term for a female warrior. The star at the right leg is called Saiph, for the sword or sabre of the Arabic Orion.
Credit: Alex Conu/IAU OAE

License: CC-BY-4.0 Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) icons

Venus changes from being small and almost full to being large with only a thin crescent illuminated.

A Matter of Perspective

Caption: This exquisite series of images, captured from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, between 17 December 2019 and 25 May 2020, shows the phases of Venus as seen from Earth. As Venus and Earth orbit the Sun, we observe different portions of Venus’s sunlit half, similar to the Moon’s phases. The sequence clearly shows Venus as distant, small, bright and gibbous in the lower frames, and ends with Venus reaching the biggest apparent size of all planets (upper frames), very close to the Sun with a small elongation, and appearing as a thin crescent. In the last frame, only 2.8% of the planet’s surface is illuminated.
Credit: Christofer Baez/IAU OAE (CC BY 4.0)

License: CC-BY-4.0 Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) icons

At the top Venus is full and appears small. As the images progress it moves to half, crescent and new, appearing larger.

Phases of Venus

Caption: This is a mesmerising series of images of Venus captured from Surgères, Charente-Maritime, France, over a period of six months in 2015. The phases appear similar to the phases we see of our own Moon and occur for similar reasons. Only half of Venus is illuminated by the Sun and, from Earth, we can sometimes only see part of that illuminated half, depending on the relative positions of the Sun, Earth and Venus. Both Mercury and Venus exhibit phases because their orbit is between the Sun and the orbit of Earth. Depending on the position of Venus relative to the Sun and Earth, Venus goes through its phases over a period of time. This sequence of images beautifully showcases the transition from the ‘gibbous’ to the slender crescents. The use of infrared filters helped to capture Venus's dense perpetual cloud cover during daylight in sharp detail, providing a glimpse into the mysterious nature of the planet’s atmosphere.
Credit: Stephane Gonzales/IAU OAE (CC BY 4.0)

License: CC-BY-4.0 Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) icons

Three bright objects in the sky with one top left, one in the middle and one lower centre.

Jupiter, Venus, Moon Conjunction

Caption: Captured with a smartphone in February 2023, over the skies of Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, USA, this photograph offers a glimpse into a conjunction, an enthralling astronomical phenomenon that occurs when two or more celestial objects are seen in close proximity in the sky from our perspective, despite the objects not being physically near to each other. In this image, the brilliance of Jupiter (top), the allure of Venus (middle), and the familiar glow of our Moon (bottom) dance together against a backdrop of delicate clouds and a treeline silhouette, making it a moment worth treasuring.
Credit: Joslynn Appel/IAU OAE (CC BY 4.0)

License: CC-BY-4.0 Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) icons

Mercury appears smaller and fainter than Venus. The bottom right of Venus is an illuminated crescent.

Venus and Mercury Trails

Caption: In this composite image, both Mercury (left) and Venus (right) can be seen heading into the sunset. The phases of each are beautifully captured as they descend. Not all planets or moons in the Solar System show phases as viewed from Earth. This phenomenon occurs because the orbits of Venus and Mercury are positioned between Earth’s orbit and the Sun, sometimes allowing us to see only part of the illuminated portion of each planet. These phases are similar to the phases we see of our own Moon.
Credit: Marcella Giulia Pace (CC BY 4.0)

License: CC-BY-4.0 Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) icons

Related Activities

Children's Planetary Maps: Venus

Children's Planetary Maps: Venus

astroEDU educational activity (links to astroEDU website)
Description: Learn more about our nearest neighbour

License: CC-BY-4.0 Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) icons

Tags: Planetary cartography , Spatial thinking
Age Ranges: 6-8 , 8-10 , 10-12 , 12-14
Education Level: Middle School , Primary , Secondary
Areas of Learning: Social Research
Costs: Low Cost
Duration: 2 hours
Group Size: Group
Skills: Analysing and interpreting data , Asking questions , Communicating information , Constructing explanations , Developing and using models , Engaging in argument from evidence , Planning and carrying out investigations