The first space probe to Venus, Venus I, was launched in Russia on 12 March 1961, but radio contact was lost before it made close approach. Mariner 2 was more successful, launched 26 August 1962; in December it bypassed Venus at only 21,750 miles. Venus III, launched 16 November 1965, was the first space probe to actually hit Venus (0656 hr GMT, 1 March 1966), but after it crashed onto the surface it disintegrated in less than an hour, due to the hostile environment it found. Many probes have subsequently been sent, Venus IV being the first to make a soft landing on another planet (18 October 1967), Venus IX and Venus X sending back live TV pictures from the planet's surface (21/25 October 1975).
Pioneer 10, an orbiting probe launched on 20 May 1978, was expected to last 243 days. It finally burnt up after entering Venus's atmosphere on 8 October 1992 after sending vast amounts of new data. The Magellan radar mapper launched from the space shuttle Atlantis on 5 May 1989 reached Venus in August 1990. The following year it reported that the sulphur and carbon dioxide atmosphere, which masks Venus from direct observation, was formed 400-800 million years ago, about the same time as Earth. It reported gales blasting sand and dust across the surface and spidery lava flows.
By 1993 it had sent back enough evidence to suggest that life had once been supported on Venus. It showed that levels of heavy hydrogen were 150 times higher than previously thought. As this is produced by evaporation there would have been up to 300 times as much water at one time on Venus. Before its runaway greenhouse effect raised temperatures to 462°C they might have been as low as 21°C, and shallow seas of 25-75 feet deep could have washed over the planet's surface. Life could therefore have developed. The Earth can expect to suffer the same eventual hothouse fate as Venus, which it has so far escaped due to its greater distance from the Sun.
On 27 May 1993 Magellan began its 80-day descent to within 125-370 miles of the planet's surface to take close-range computer-enhanced radar impressions. The surface of Venus was still not visible because of the planet's surface atmosphere.
Venus has a dense atmosphere and an extremely hostile environment. In fact it roughly corresponds to the conventional picture of Hell, completely at odds with its symbolic representation. Its surface is a hotbed of volcanic activity, with 100,000 or so small low volcanoes of around 3 miles across and 300 to 600 feet high. One is over 2 miles high, with a giant crater, and gorges of lava up to 4,200 miles long, longer than the R Nile, the longest channel in the Solar System, though it is less than 1½ miles wide.
The distribution of the craters on the surface of Venus is completely random. The significance of this is that, uniquely in the Solar System, its surface must entirely be of the same age, which is relatively young. Prof Don Turcott believes that approximately every 500 million years the planet completely renews itself by turning inside out. The interior heat builds up to the point when the surface disrupts and sinks into the interior and extreme surface volcanism follows. The surface is then cooled by the atmosphere and forms a new solid surface. The planet is then effectively dead for the next 500 million years, with no apparent life, when the cycle repeats.
Venus is geologically active, with evidence recently discovered of a landslide, thought to have been caused by an earthquake. The volcano Maat Mons is believed by some scientists to have erupted only a few years ago, since when examined by Magellan the lava hadn't had time to weather. Only Earth and the moons Io and Triton were previously thought to be volcanic. Venus' highest mountain, Maxwell Montes, is slightly bigger than Everest. Venus has a canyon 1,000 miles south of the Venusian equator, which is 21,000 ft deep, and 250 miles long. Magellan finally crashed onto the surface of Venus on 12 October 1994.
Venus is our nearest planetary neighbour, apart from the Moon, at its perigee, when it is only 25,700,000 miles from Earth. When at perihelion it is at a distance of 66,737,091 miles from the Sun. On average it is 0.723 AU from the Sun. It has the most closely circular orbit of all the known planets and at aphelion has an eccentricity of orbit of only 0.007, at a distance of 67,731,312 miles. Uniquely, a Venusian day is longer than a Venusian year: 243.01 and 224.7 days respectively. Venus is almost identical in size to the Earth, having a polar and equatorial diameter of 7,521.2825 miles, but rotates east to west, or in retrograde, the opposite direction to the Sun, Earth and all the other planets in the Solar System. Venus travels 585° per annum.
Because Venus has an orbital inclination of over 3°, it passes not only through the 12 Zodiac constellations, but also interlopes into Sextans, Hydra, Corvus, Crater, Scutum and Pegasus. It is not unique in this; Pluto's tilt, for instance, brings it into 25 or so constellations.
Venus is the brightest of all the planets because of the reflective properties of the thick white clouds, which cover its surface, sometimes visible to the naked eye even in daylight, and when seen against a dark background can even cast shadows on Earth. It can outshine the combined brightness of all the stars visible in the hemisphere at one time. The cloud patterns, which were assumed until the twentieth century to be the surface of the planet itself, gave rise to theories of rivers and other features suggestive of a hospitable life- supporting paradise. When seen before sunrise it is known as the Morning Star or Phosphorous, at dusk it is the Evening Star or Hesperus. It reflects 59% of the sunlight falling on it, compared with the Moon's 7%. Its maximum angular distance from the Sun is 48°. Venus passes through inferior conjunction on average every 585 days, of which 542 are direct and the rest (7%) retrograde. It is visible from Earth for 263 days, closely equivalent to the human gestation period (260-266 days). Venus will have 6 inferior conjunctions every 8 years, during which it traces out a pentagram in the zodiac. At its 6th conjunction it will be within a degree or two of its first, at around the same date.
Venus has phases, like the Moon (and Mercury); indeed, Galileo's discovery of this in 1610 was fundamental in the breaking down of Ptolemaic theory that the Sun and planets moved around the Earth. Under this theory, incidentally, Venus would have been the nearest planet to the Sun. Venus occasionally crosses the disk of the Sun. These crossings are called transits and were first observed in 1761. Transits occur in pairs and were last seen in 1874 and 1882. The next pair are due on 8 June 2004 and 6 June 2012.
There have been many original theories concerning Venus. Immanuel Velikovsky (b. 10 June1895 NS, 1635 hr LMT, Vitebsk, Russia; d. 17 November 1979, Princeton NJ), for instance, believed that Venus was a comet originating from the planet Jupiter, which collided with Earth in the fifteenth century BC, and then again with Mars in the eighth century BC. This brought it from an elliptical to a near-circular orbit. At this time Mars' new orbit apparently merited its astrological status as a malefic planet. The Babylonian tablet of Ammisaduqa from the second millennium BC appears to show a shorter period for when Venus is visible, a difference of some three weeks.
It is true that unlike all its neighbours Venus has no asteroid impact craters of less than 5 miles across, but this may be due not to its recent arrival, but because the atmosphere burned up all smaller objects. It does, however, have an ion tail produced by solar wind, first seen by the Pioneer Venus Orbiter in the 1970s, which is similar to that of a great comet, but found in 1997 to stretch almost as far as the orbit of Earth. These solar subatomic particles are normally deflected by the planet's magnetic field, but as Venus has no magnetic field it has been bombarded constantly by them.
The sigil for Venus g represents the circle of spirit, containing all spiritual potential, representing the union of male (fire and air) and female (earth and water) forces, lifted by the cross of matter, which represents all life and nature on Earth, the manifestation of the union of the elements. It is still the symbol for the feminine principle in biology and medicine.
With its spectacular colour and brilliance in the sky, it is not surprising that Venus was named after the goddess of beauty. Venus was originally a Latin goddess of the spring, but was later identified with Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty. In Assyro-Babylonian myth Ishtar (Sister of the Moon) was the divine personification of the planet Venus, and called herself the masculine war goddess of the morn and the feminine love goddess of the evening. She has also been identified with their Nin-dar-anna (Mistress of the Heavens). The Phoenicians named her Ashtart of the Sky of Ba'al and the Chaldeans Anahita. The Chinese named Venus Tai-pe (Beautiful White One). The Aztecs made Venus their goddess of guilty loves, pleasure and lust, and named her Tlazolteotl, but the Incas regarded the planet as Chasca, the long-haired star, thought to be a man acting as page to the Sun. Venus is the planetary ruler of Friday (Vendredi), Frig being the Anglo-Saxon equivalent of Venus (the Norse goddess
Astrologically ruling intuition and feeling, Venus is regarded as the planet of harmony, love and unity. The fact that Venus is shrouded in cloud is symbolic of its tendency to deal in surfaces and outward appearance. Venus enables us to adjust to encouraging a relationship, extending a hand in hope of friendship, showing our best behaviour, if only to provoke a similar response in others.
Venus represents our spiritual side and is an index of our ability to enjoy beauty and harmony with others. It is the desire for companionship, through social or personal relationships, comfort and ease. Its significators are co-operation and unity; love, marriage, intimacy, tenderness, affections; understanding, compromise; refinement, beauty; appreciation of art, music, food, environment; social contacts, peace and harmony; the ability to express and receive affection; our need for appreciation and sharing.
Venus is connected with right-side brain activity. The right brain accesses and processes information that is based on experiences that have no causal relationship. It has been called the intuitive, artistic and relational part of the brain - the feminine or Yin polarity. Venus is the day ruler of Libra and the night ruler of Taurus, but in esoteric astrology it rules Gemini. In the Greek pantheon observed by the Romans, Venus, goddess of love, ruled Taurus.
The Babylonians also knew Libra as "the scorpion's horns", and thus the Romans adopted the name Chelae ("claws") for Libra. When the stars the Scorpion and Scorpion's Claws were both included by Eratosthenes in the same constellation during 2 BC, confusion arose between the adjacent signs of Libra and Scorpio that persists to this day.
The ancient astrological name for Venus when it rises before the Sun is Lucifer, meaning light-bringer. A Lucifer is also a kind of nineteenth century friction match. Lucifer represents the modern equivalent of the being of the Sun (originally named Ormudz in the Zoroastrian dualism), who opposes the Prince of Lies, symbolising darkness.
In Isaiah 14:12. Isaiah applied the epithet Day-star, or Lucifer, to the King of Babylon, who boasted that he would ascend to Heaven and be equal to God. Instead he was cast down for his pride to the uttermost recesses of the pit. In Paradise Lost Milton gives the name to the demon of Sinful Pride.
Venus can only form conjunctions, semisextiles and semisquares with the Sun, but, like Mercury, its Sun conjunctions can be superior, when it is nearly invisible, or inferior. When Venus (or Mercury) comes under sunbeams or under the Sun's rays, at superior conjunction, according to Bonatus and Al-Biruni, it will become debilitated and "will be of small efficacy in anything" (Bonatus, in The Astrologer's Guide) and "a prisoner in confinement" (Al-Biruni). They give orbs of 12°, though William Lilly gives 17° in his Christian Astrology. These conditions do not apply if the planet is in a different zodiacal sign to the Sun, or if Venus's latitude is more than 6° north or south of the ecliptic, according to Al-Biruni, in Elements of the Art of Astrology. As it becomes 50% closer to the Sun (depending on the orb used) it becomes combust, and is severely debilitated. At this time, according to Lilly, it is "unable to bring anything to perfection" and comparable to a person "in great fear or overpowered by some great person". When it is within a 17-second orb of the Sun, it is in the condition of cazimi, or "in the heart of the Sun." At this point, according to the Arabians, it exerts its maximum influence, representing a symbolic renewal of the planets powers in the heart of the Sun, when it is "wondrous strong", as Lilly puts it.
When separating the conditions of combustion and under sunbeams are slightly less marked than when applying, like "a sick person advancing in convalesce" (Al-Biruni). It is regarded as being at the height of its powers after this, but is considered weak when it reaches its first station, because it is about to go retrograde. At its first station it is described by Al-Biruni as strangled and hopeless, and by Bonatus as signifying crossness and disobedience. As Venus (or Mercury) becomes retrograde it is said to be sluggish and depressed. As it approaches inferior conjunction it repeats the debilitating stages of under sunbeams and in combustion.
Inferior conjunctions, in contemporary astrology, denote a period of soul-searching, profiling one's needs and desires. An inferior conjunction is recognised in a chart because Venus will be retrograde, as it overtakes Earth at its perigee. This happens on every fifth Venusian day. The closer Venus is to the Sun, the greater the emphasis on desire. Because of its regular cycles, a Venus return will invariably appear on the chart of every eighth solar return. After cazimi, the second stage of its retrograde passage denotes hope of succour". At its second station, delivery is near at hand", because it is about to go direct. Bonatus says, "As the first station is not so bad as retrogradation, so the second station is not so good as direction". Lilly accords it "an aptness and the renewing of strength and everything", while Bonatus speaks of "hindrance and evil that hath been and is past."
Last updated 26 April 2004