How Did Venus Get Its Name? Origin and Meaning

Written by Drew Wood
Updated: July 11, 2023
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Our closest neighbor in the solar system is Venus. Because this planet shares many similarities with Earth, it’s been called Earth’s “twin.” It’s not hard to spot. If you’ve looked at the sky before sunrise or after sunset, you’ve probably seen it shining close to the horizon. Because Venus orbits closer to the Sun than Earth, it is only visible when the Sun’s harsh glare is below the horizon. We can also spot it during the rare occasion of a solar eclipse. As a bright, romantic star-like light, it’s not surprising that Venus is named after a goddess of love. Though you might associate love with heavenly vibes, once you know a little more about this planet, you’ll see it has more in common with hell than heaven.

Key Points

  • Along with Mercury, Earth, and Mars, Venus is one of the terrestrial (rocky) planets.
  • It is the brightest object in Earth’s morning and evening sky. Only the Sun and the Moon have a brighter magnitude.
  • Venus was named after the Roman goddess of love, beauty, and civic power. Julius Caesar claimed her as his ancestor.
  • On its surface, Venus reaches an inferno of 867 °F with an atmospheric pressure 92 times that of Earth.
  • Past volcanic eruptions resurfaced 80% of the planet. These are likely the source of the greenhouse gasses that make the planet so hot.
  • Despite its extreme conditions, some scientists think Venus could support exotic bacterial life floating high in its atmosphere.
  • Terraforming Venus to make it more Earth-like would require technology that is centuries in the future for us. We will likely find some easier places in space for humans to live before tackling this nightmare world.
Planet Venus isolated on black background. Elements of this image were furnished by NASA. High quality photo

The chemical composition of the atmosphere of Venus shrouds it in yellowish-colored clouds.

©Artsiom P/Shutterstock.com

What Does Venus Look Like from Earth?

Venus is unmistakable in the early morning and late evening sky. During the day, it’s invisible because of the harsh rays of the sun. But when the sun is hidden below the horizon, just before sunrise and just after sunset, it becomes apparent. In fact, it is the third brightest object in our skies, after the Sun and the Moon. Since ancient times, it has been called the “morning star” and “evening star.” If you look at it through binoculars or a small telescope, you’ll see it as a crescent shape. This is due to its range of phases from our perspective on Earth, similar to the Moon.

Mother and daughter observing stars, planets, Moon and night sky with astronomical telescope.

Venus can be seen at sunrise and sunset. It looks like the brightest star in the sky.

©True Touch Lifestyle/Shutterstock.com

Who Was Venus Named After?

Venus is named after the Roman goddess of love and beauty, who was equivalent to the Greek goddess Aphrodite. The bright planet’s association with love was obvious, since it was visible at times when lovers might admire its light. In Rome, though, Venus was also associated with the ruling power of Rome. Additionally, Venus was connected to the matronly virtues of the ideal Roman empress.

In ancient cultures, Venus was also called “Lucifer” or “light-bearer,” a name that became associated with Satan. Canaanite mythology connected it to a secondary god who tried to take the throne of the high God. This rebel god was thrown down to the depths. This may have been inspired by Venus’ rising high in the morning sky, before being extinguished as the sun burst over the horizon. The Jewish prophet Isaiah used this reference against the King of Babylon. He referred to him as the “morning star” that fell from heaven (Isaiah 14:12). Christians see this as an analogy for the fall of Satan from Heaven. Remarkably, though, the New Testament also used the “morning star” as a reference to Jesus (2 Peter 1:19).

Roman Aureus Gold Coin replica of Julius Caesar with a probable portrait of the goddess Venus and a Trophy of Gallic Arms on the reverse struck between 48-47 BC cut out isolated on a white background

Venus represents love, beauty, and Roman power. Julius Caesar claimed to be her direct descendent.

©Tony Baggett/Shutterstock.com

What is the Planet Venus Like?

Planetary scientists think Venus, like the Earth, has a core, mantle, and crust. In the case of Venus, though, the crust is so thick and inflexible that the planet has no plate tectonics. This means most of the planet’s heat has no way to escape. It wasn’t always exactly like that. It’s clear that in the past Venus had huge volcanic eruptions. In fact, up to 80% of the surface has been covered in a smooth plain of volcanic rock, like the flat volcanic plains on our Moon.

At the surface, gravity is about 91 % that of Earth, so you would feel lighter there. However, the atmospheric pressure is 92% higher than what it is at the surface of the Earth. The surface temperature is a broiling 876 °F, hot enough to melt lead and destroy space probes within three hours. At that high temperature and pressure, the planet’s atmosphere reaches a supercritical state. It has characteristics of both a gas and a liquid. It’s hard to imagine anything more nightmarish!

The surface of planet Venus is 200 °F hotter than the melting point of lead.

©iStock.com/3quarks

Why is Venus So Hot?

The main reason Venus is so hot is the chemical composition of its atmosphere. About 96.5% of the atmosphere is carbon dioxide, and nitrogen make up most of the rest. There are also sulphuric acid clouds in the atmosphere. All of this gives the planet a yellowish color as observed from space. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, which means it allows the light and heat of the sun to penetrate. However, this gas does not dissipate into space. As a result, Venus has a runaway greenhouse effect. Where did all that carbon dioxide come from? One possibility is that it is from the volcanic eruptions that resurfaced most of the planet. Climatologists worry that Earth could face the same fate, if we do not gain control of our own carbon emissions.

pollution

We have a long way to go before the greenhouse effect on Earth could be close to what Venus endures.

©nEwyyy/Shutterstock.com

Life on Venus?

There is probably no life anywhere on Venus because of the conditions we’ve described, and because there is no water on the planet. However, some researchers point to Earth’s thermophiles – bacteria that survive at extremely high temperatures and in unusual chemical environments around volcanic vents deep under the sea or in hot springs. These scientists suggest that there is the possibility of similar bacteria floating high in the atmosphere of Venus where it is cooler and not as pressurized.

Animals that live near volcanoes – thermophile

Thermophiles thrive in conditions of extreme heat on Earth.

©GeoNtoH/Shutterstock.com

Terraforming Venus?

Both science fiction writers and legitimate scientists have explored the idea of terraforming Venus; that is, changing its atmosphere and surface conditions to make them conducive to Earth life. The technology to even start a project that massive is many years in the future, and the process itself would take centuries.

The atmosphere might be changed by genetically engineering thermophiles to convert carbon dioxide to oxygen. We are already experimenting with repositioning asteroids. Asteroids or comets with water or other desirable resources could be deliberately redirected to the planet. Robotic miners would tear off chunks and shove them down to the surface of Venus. Some have even suggested creating “floating continents” – platforms that would stay aloft in the atmosphere using nitrogen gas. This way, only the outer layers of the atmosphere would need to be altered to the needs of Earthlings.

These ambitious plans could only be accomplished by tremendous technological advances. Humans might decide in the end those efforts and resources are better spent on Mars, one of the solar system’s moons, or even an exoplanet around another star. Even though it’s pretty unlikely that we will live on Venus, it’s a pretty safe bet humans will live somewhere off-planet in the centuries to come. And that’s both an exciting and terrifying thought!

business, future technology and augmented reality concept - businessman with virtual planet and space hologram, terraforming

The technology to terraform a planet as harsh as Venus lies many years in the future.

©Ground Picture/Shutterstock.com

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Artsiom P/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Drew Wood is a writer at A-Z Animals focusing on mammals, geography, and world cultures. Drew has worked in research and writing for over 20 years and holds a Masters in Foreign Affairs (1992) and a Doctorate in Religion (2009). A resident of Nebraska, Drew enjoys Brazilian jiu-jitsu, movies, and being an emotional support human to four dogs.

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