We Asked a NASA Scientist: Why is Venus Called Earth’s Evil Twin?

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Venus, often referred to as Earth’s “Evil Twin,” is the second planet from the Sun and shares many similarities with our home planet, such as size, mass, and composition. However, Venus is shrouded in an opaque, toxic atmosphere comprised primarily of carbon dioxide and sulfuric acid clouds, which create a runaway greenhouse effect, trapping heat and raising surface temperatures to a scorching 900 degrees Fahrenheit (475 degrees Celsius). This inhospitable environment is characterized by intense air pressure, powerful winds, and extreme volcanic activity, making Venus a stark contrast to Earth’s relatively mild and life-supporting conditions.

Why is Venus called Earth’s evil twin?

Venus and Earth are sometimes called twins because they’re pretty much about the same size. Venus is almost as big as Earth. They also formed in the same inner part of the solar system. Venus is in fact our closest neighbor to Earth. So they were formed in the same part of the solar system, made out of the same materials. They’re about the same size. So you would think that they would have turned out very, very similar.

But what happened is somewhere along the way, they went two very different paths. Some people like to say Venus went bad or something went wrong. I like to say that somewhere along the way, something good happened on Earth. But on Venus, what happened is its large, thick carbon dioxide atmosphere is driving a greenhouse effect. In fact, it’s so hot on Venus that you can melt lead. The temperatures on the surface of Venus are over 900 degrees Fahrenheit, and then Venus is covered in a 15-mile-thick layer of clouds. And those clouds are made of sulfuric acid. So it is a crazy place, but really interesting.

And we really want to understand why Venus and Earth turned out so differently. So NASA and ESA are embarking on a decade of Venus, where together we’re sending three missions where we’re all going to learn more about how Venus formed, how it evolved, and why it’s so different from Earth. 


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