Astronomy

Legends about Venus



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The planet Venus has been the focus of awe and inspiration to humanity for thousands of years and probably will continue to be for thousands of years more. Named after the ancient Roman goddess of love and beauty Venus is one of the brightest objects in the night sky and has been the centerpiece of numerous stories and legends down through the ages.

During certain times of the year when Earth and Venus are in close proximity Venus can be so bright that people often mistake this mysterious, cloud covered planet for a low flying plane or if seen close to the horizon the headlight of an oncoming train. In times past, and even presently, people have seen the brightly lit planet as a UFO hovering above the Earth. Because Venus is closer to the sun than the Earth is it is most often seen around the times of sunset and sunrise which means that it soon vanishes beneath the horizon or is drowned out by the sun's light which adds to the mystery.

The most famous legends of Venus evolved soon after the invention of the telescope and astronomers looked to the second planet from the sun. When telescopes were first aimed at Venus astronomers saw nothing but a bright, featureless disk. It was concluded that Venus was covered with a thick layer of clouds. Because Venus was similar in size to the Earth, and Earth has clouds because of water, it was assumed that Venus had to have clouds because there was water. For the longest time scientists believed that Venus was a wet, murky jungle-like planet. This story even persisted as recently as the late 1950's into the early 1960's. The wet, jungle-like Venus stories lasted for numerous years and was even perpetuated by science fiction writers who told tales of human colonies on Venus or aliens inhabiting Earth's "twin".

Venus obviously is not a UFO or plane and when it was discovered that Venus was extremely hot it was theorized by American astronomer Carl Sagan that Venus suffered from a catastrophic greenhouse effect. Pictures taken by space probes to the surface of Venus eventually proved that the second planet had no jungles or water but was simply a rocky planet with an atmosphere of gaseous sulfuric acid. The early stories and legends about Venus, however, will persist through the science fiction literature written before the truth was known.

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