Astronomy / Blog

Lucifer in our Skies!


But not always.  And why not?  Because that planet moves around!

Venus is inferior to us, the second large object from the sun inside our orbit.  It is very similar in size and shape to our Earth.  But hotter.  Very hot.  Maybe that is why it was named for the mythical Roman goddess of love, Venus [or Aphrodite in Greece].  Passionate heat.  But why did those ancient Romans also once call that planet Lucifer!

Was it another reflection of their view of love?  No.  Perhaps they just didn’t know that they were looking at the same blazing object when it suddenly reappeared early in the morning.  And it certainly does look like burning fire!  Check it out, outside tomorrow morning.  And then check it out in Isaiah 14:12 (KJV) of the Bible.  “How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!”

Am I wrong in calling Venus, Satan?  Perhaps that devilish name for the planet Venus didn’t originally have the same connotation.  So when it rises again in the morning, let’s give it another name, “Phosphorus.”  That was what the ancient Greeks called the Morning Star.  Isn’t mythology fun?  Lots of made-up stuff! That is the “myth” part!

Earlier this year of 2020, Venus was blazing away, high in the early evening darkness.  It was our polestar during the stay-at-home pandemic.  When we walked, it was just like in the old days.  The roads were quiet, and only the stars were talking.  But suddenly, or so it seemed, Venus disappeared and can now only be seen in the morning.  How odd.

Venus probably started with the same geologic processes as our planet.  It is about the same age as Earth, beginning its formation about 4 billion years ago.  It has a molten metal core, and a protective magnetic field, just like Earth.  And there is a crust of a mantle, with diverse rock minerals, if now mostly igneous in origin.

Some data is always a good thing.

Venus lies 67 million miles from the sun.  The Earth, 94 million.  Venus will come to within 25 million miles of Earth in its orbit [about 100 times the distance to the moon].  Its diameter is 7,523 miles, just shy of Earth’s, at 7,928 miles.  Weighs about the same, too [as if anyone, but God, had a scale that big!].  And gravity?  You would feel lighter on Venus.  At .88 times the gravity of Earth, you might not leap over tall buildings in a single bound, but you would move delightfully more buoyantly in each of your strides!

Now here is where it gets interesting.  The clouds.  Three layers of them completely shrouding the planet from 30 miles to 44 miles in altitude.

Clouds?  Really?  Like ours?  With water and rain?  No.  They are made of 97% carbon dioxide [more about that later], with water at only 30 parts per million.  That is very dry!  Earth’s atmosphere, for comparison, is 70% nitrogen and 1% water [1% equals about 10,000 parts per million].

But it does rain on Venus.  Sulfuric acid droplets!  For there is six times the amount of that scalding molecule in the Venusian clouds, when compared to water.  And the explosions, when sulfuric acid droplets contact a water molecule, must make those clouds a flashy and dangerous place to look into.

And what’s all the hubbub of the recent discovery there of the phosphine molecule? [a phosphorus atom with three hydrogen hitch-hikers].  It is apparently present only in parts per billion.  But its discovery is truly exciting, if you believe there is other life in the solar system!

When you reach below those cloud layers level, you can see the planet surface below you. Above the rocky continent, the sky is clear.  Clearish, really, with a hazy, reddish hue.  Kind of like the San Francisco Bay area, when all those fires recently burnt out of control out there.

Those longer, red, solar wavelengths make it more easily through the Venusian cloud barrier, while the higher energy, shorter blue ones are captured and absorbed within.  In a strange comparison, that is the same reason our atmosphere appears blue, atmospheric scattering of the same bluish wavelengths.

And what energy makes it through to the surface, radiates back as longer wavelength, infrared heat radiation.  And that heat is trapped by the carbon dioxide dominated clouds on Venus.  Just like carbon dioxide acts on Earth.  Except that Venus has so much more of that gas accumulated.  The same one you are breathing out right now while you read this.

That is why it is almost 900°F on Venus, with the weight of such a massive atmosphere creating pressures 92 times that found on Earth!  All because some wavelengths pass through, and some are caught escaping.

Look up now, and appreciate your blue sky.  It might change color, one day, to the neon pink of Venus!

So, if you get to go to Venus anytime soon, you will be immediately crushed and incinerated.  But only after your skin has been stripped off by burning sulfuric acid as you drop down slowly through those Venusian cloud systems.

Not that it will matter to you then, but you might wonder if there is sulfuric rain on the surface.  Something to fear, like Anne McCaffrey’s Threadfall on the Dragonriders planet of Pern.  No, those were organic terrors.  On Venus, the inorganic sulfuric acid droplets rarely make it that far down.  They are called “virga.”  I’ll let you ferret out that term for yourself!

Now let’s get back to that planet Venus and its shifting patterns in our nights and mornings.  If you didn’t know better [and we only began to understand something else was going on up there, once Galileo looked carefully through his newly constructed telescope], you would think something Godly was moving around and speaking to you!  And of the seven regular, sky wandering objects, you would be most worried about this one, the brightest, other than the Gods [or Goddesses] of the sun and moon.  Especially when it disappeared below the horizon.

Time to make sacrifices?  Of humans, that most valuable species?  Praying for that bright spot of light to return?  For the Aztecs, it was the sun that they killed for.  Much of religion can be considered stupid, when it creates conditions that result in harming people.  And it doesn’t take a mysterious planet, acting so weirdly, to make us act so seemingly foolish.

Here is a description of Lucifer’s [Venus, if you must] sky passage, passing so erratically from the Evening to the Morning Star above us.

But first, let’s listen.  There is music in the heavens, and a special mathematical relationship between Earth and Venus.  A five to eight resonance.  Play it on your guitar. Hum it, even.  In eight of our years, Venus will work through five combinations of its Evening Star/Morning Star dances.  So mark it down.  The next time you see the planet, wait eight years and it will be back in the exact same spot!  In the interim, you can play both sides of that 5/8ths interval on your piano and listen to it singing!

In between, you will see Venus cut five different dance lines against the sky pattern.  They trace out figures that look like this: a fallen balloon; a killer shark’s fin; a soup ladle lying down; an obscene gesture; and a bigger, fuller balloon.  Go ahead, start looking now, and draw out that planet’s movement.  You will be repeating what the greatest minds of our species have been doing for thousands of generations!

Venus rises and falls in the evening, then disappears.  It then rises and falls in the morning, and disappears again.  That combined cycle takes about 19 months, or about 584 days.  And that is another link between Venus and the human species.  It is visible in the evening for about 260 days.  A sacred number to the ancient Mayans.

That’s also about the average time of gestation in the human womb.  Ancient peoples would have been quick to identify that fact.  Especially those who saw that bright object as the Goddess of Love!  But that was only in the evening.  What did they think was happening in the morning?

Venus disappears as it passes between Earth and the sun [inferior conjunction], or behind the sun, opposite our orbit [superior conjunction].  The planet is not visible to us then, and remains hidden.  The reason for the five different sky patterns is that the plane of Venus’ orbit is slightly tilted off of ours [3.5 degrees], and that our planet is tilted on its axis [currently 23.5 degrees].  It is the tilt that gives us our seasons.  Venus is tilted at only 3 degrees, and has a nearly circular orbit.  It has no seasons.

So we, as a species, have been watching this bright object [or two of them, until Pythagoras demonstrated that they were the same thing!].  Applying different mythologies in different belief systems.

Venus, as an Evening Star for Rome, Lucifer as the Morning one for the Roman people even more ancient.  Aphrodite and Phosphorous, for the ancient Greeks.  Ishtar and Inanna in Sumeria.  In Egypt, were Sekhmet, Bastet, and Hathor associated with that orb?  Or was Isis the name for that planet of love to those people?  Astarte for the Phoenicians.  Kukulkan for the Maya.  Quetzalcoatl to the Aztecs.  Many blame that Aztec confusion for the victories of Cortez.  For their god was slated to return some day. Could the shiny beast with two heads [horse and rider] be him?

And, even now, in our “modern times,” before the more recent fascination with Mars, we humans sent more than 38 spacecraft to investigate Venus.  Especially the Russian Venera landers and the American Mariner, Pioneer, and Magellan missions.  The last Soviet capsule landed on the planet in 1986.  That effort ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union.

But why were the Russians so interested?

Maybe we should take another look at Venus!



About Author

Ronald R. Van Stockum, Jr. is a lawyer, teacher, biologist, writer, guitarist, and recently an actor living on his family's old farm in Shelbyville, Kentucky. He has a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Santa Clara University, and a Masters and PhD. in Biology from the University of Louisville. He also has his Juris Doctorate in Law from the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law. He practices law from offices in Shelbyville, Kentucky concentrating his legal practice in environmental law. His biologic research is in historical phytogeography. Dr. Van Stockum, Jr. has published numerous books, articles, and short stories in the areas of law, science, and creative writing. most of his 24 titles are available on this site and Amazon with many on Kindle and Audible!

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