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Reading Passage: Planet Strange Love


image courtesy of Views of the Solar System

On a strange planet, oddly like Earth in shape, size and chemical make up, huge storm clouds hover in the atmosphere stirring in winds that reach up to 350 miles per hour. Even more bizarre, on the planet’s surface winds rarely exceed a few miles per hour, the temperatures reach a scorching 900 degrees Fahrenheit, and the atmospheric pressure is more than 90 times that of Earth. Surprisingly, this upside down world where the sun rises in the west and the days last longer than the years is not from the pages of a science fiction book. In fact, it is relative close by. Some might even say it is in our own back yard. This place is Venus, the second planet in our solar system. As inhospitable as Venus may seem, it has an enthralling potential. The potential that led some scientists to call it Earth’s sister planet, and that encouraged Carl Sagan to discuss terraforming the planet to make it habitable for humans. Certainly, this planet has an exciting and mythological history and incredible prospects.
2 Modern science and ancient astronomy were both charmed by the beauty and glory of Venus, the planet named after the ancient goddess of love. Half of its attraction is it luster: Venus is the brightest object in the night sky excluding the moon.

image courtesy of Views of the Solar System

Many of the ancients, however, were fooled into thinking that Venus was two different bodies-the morning and evening star.  For a time Venus rises with the sun only to disappear from view and then a few month later rise with the setting sun. To the Assyrians this duality was expressed in Ishtar, who was the goddess of war and love and embodied by the planet Venus. The Greeks were not fooled by Venus’ apparently strange behavior. Instead, they used its 8-year cycle in which it traces out a pentagram in the sky to schedule their Olympic games. Originally the Olympic games were held every 8 years instead of every four like they are now.
3 Today, scientists from NASA are still driven to study Venus. Venus still carries a great deal of mystique, even under the scrutinizing eye of modern technology. The thick clouds of sulfuric acid and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere make it impossible to see the planets surface. Only by using radar imaging are we able to get a glimpse of the planets surface. The topography of Venus is covered by vast plains and scattered volcanoes. There are even a few geological features that are unique to Venus called coronae and archnoids.
4 Coronae are huge circular or oval features, surrounded by cliffs and span for hundreds of miles, while archnoids are similar in shape with concentric rings and a complex network of fractures emanating from a gigantic crater as shown in the following picture.

image courtesy of Views of the Solar System

Venus has some other odd features as well. It has no magnetic field, no satellites, and its orbit is nearly circular, which is peculiar since most planets have elliptical orbits.
5 Its movement through the sky also seems to resonate with the orbit of the earth. Every time the two planets are at their closest approach Venus always shows the same face to the Earth. Additionally, Venus, an inferior planet, or one closer to the sun than the Earth, shows phases like the moon.  Since it is an inner planet Venus can also pass before the sun in an eclipse like manner, in what is called a transit.  This happened recently on June 8th, 2004.  These transits appear on an irregular schedule - the last one occurred in 1882 while the next one will not occur until 2012.

A pelican is in motion Tuesday across the face of the rising sun, along with the planet Venus, as seen from the Flagler Beach Pier in Daytona Beach. JIM TILLER/DAYTONA BEACH NEWS-JOURNAL
image courtesy of Miami Herald

6 With all of these oddities it is hard to imagine how Venus is anything like the Earth or to envision people eventually living on this planet. Yet, Venus does share several similarities with our home planet. First, Venus and Earth have nearly identical densities and close to the same gravitational pulls. Venus’s mass and equatorial radius are almost equivalent to Earth’s as well. But the similarities stop there. Venus has very little water and a hostile surface. One proposal, though, would attempt to place special bacteria in the atmosphere to remove carbon dioxide and lower the planet’s temperature making it friendlier to humans. Still this process would take hundreds of years, great effort and a lot more planning. For this reason Mars seems like a much better candidate for possible human habitation.
6 Much of this information is summarized numerically in the data table below:

Venus Statistics
Mass (Earth = 1) 0.81476
Equatorial radius (Earth = 1) 0.94886
Mean distance from the Sun (Earth = 1) 0.7233
Rotational period (Earth days) -243.0187
Orbital period (Earth days) 224.701
Orbital eccentricity 0.0068
Equatorial surface gravity (m/sec2) 8.87
Mean surface temperature 482°C
Atmospheric pressure (Earth = 1) 92
Atmospheric composition (Venus)
   Carbon dioxide
Atmospheric composition (Earth)


7 Whether or not people will eventually be able to live on Venus, people will continue to be enthralled by Venus. Venus, the brightest object in the evening sky will continue to attract the eye of scientists for years to come. A planet of oddities and beauty Venus certainly has enough seductive power to deserve the name of the goddess of love.

General Questions

Assuming that Venus and the Earth are both spheres and that the volume of a sphere can be calculated with the formula: V = (4/3)p r3, what is the ratio of the volume of Venus relative to the Earth? Use the data from the chart.

According to the passage which of the following statements is not true?

Among the obstacles to overcome in able for humans to survive on Venus are ________________.

The passage indicated Venus is an upside down world, what lead them to believe this?

The following row of information was taken from the table of Venus statistics:

          Mean distance from the Sun (Earth = 1)                  0.7233

The mean distance the Earth is from the sun is approximately 93 million miles. Using 0.7233 as the ratio of the distance Venus is from the sun compared to the distance Earth is from the sun, find an approximation for the mean distance Venus is from the sun. You may use the following formulas to assist you in answering the question:

As is stated in the passage, Venus has a nearly circular orbit. Assuming its orbit is perfectly circular with a diameter of 134,550,000 miles, how far does the planet actually travel to complete one total orbit? You may use the following formulas to assist you in answering the question:

What is the meaning of the word luster as used in the statement “Half of its attraction is its luster”?

Why is radar imaging necessary to see Venus?

What is the shape of an archnoid?

Which of the following is NOT a shared characteristic of Venus and Earth?

T Hales

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