Venus, the second planet from the sun, is named for the Roman goddess of love and beauty. The planet Venus — the only planet named after a female — may have been named for the most beautiful deity of her pantheon because it shone the brightest of the five planets known to ancient astronomers.
In ancient times, Venus was often thought to be two different stars, the evening star and the morning star — that is, the ones that first appeared at sunset and sunrise. In Latin, they were respectively known as Vesper and Lucifer. In Christian times, Lucifer, or "light-bringer," became known as the name of Satan before his fall. However, further observations of Venus in the space age show a very hellish environment. This makes Venus a very difficult planet to observe from up close, because spacecraft do not survive long on its surface.
Venus and Earth are often called twins because they are similar in size, mass, density, composition and gravity. However, the similarities end there.
Venus is the hottest world in the solar system. Although Venus is not the planet closest to the sun, its dense atmosphere traps heat in a runaway version of the greenhouse effect that warms Earth. As a result, temperatures on Venus reach 870 degrees Fahrenheit (465 degrees Celsius), more than hot enough to melt lead. Probes that scientists have landed there have survived only a few hours before being destroyed.
Venus has a hellish atmosphere as well, consisting mainly of carbon dioxide with clouds of sulfuric acid, and scientists have only detected trace amounts of water in the atmosphere. The atmosphere is heavier than that of any other planet, leading to a surface pressure 90 times that of Earth. Incredibly, however, early in Venus' history the planet may have been habitable, according to models from NASA researchers at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies.
The surface of Venus is extremely dry. During its evolution, ultraviolet rays from the sun evaporated water quickly, keeping it in a prolonged molten state. There is no liquid water on its surface today because the scorching heat created by its ozone-filled atmosphere would cause any to boil away. Roughly two-thirds of the Venusian surface is covered by flat, smooth plains that are marred by thousands of volcanoes, some which are still active today, ranging from about 0.5 to 150 miles (0.8 to 240 kilometers) wide, with lava flows carving long, winding canals up to more than 3,000 miles (5,000 km) in length, longer than on any other planet.