Venus

A Visual Guide to the Women Venus’s Geography Is Named For

When space tourism is in full swing, you’ll need to know how to get around foreign planets. One designer is already making maps to guide us.

Scientist and information designer Eleanor Lutz, a Ph.D. candidate in the University of Washington’s biology program, has previously mapped Mars, turned viruses into trading cards, and made an animated guide to North American butterflies. Her latest infographic is a map of Venus, but it includes more than just a guide to the second planet’s topography. Almost all the features on Venus are named after women, mythological and real, and Lutz’s map explains where these perhaps unfamiliar names come from.

Venus may have had oceans in its distant past, but if they did exist, they have long since evaporated, leaving a boiling hot world with a crushing carbon dioxide atmosphere. That leaves a lot of topography to cover—chasms, craters, mountains, plains, valleys, and more. According to the conventions adopted by the International Astronomical Union, these features are named after specific groups of women, largely mythological. (You’ll notice…

Venus Will Be Bright and a Little Strange Tonight

Look at the sky just after sunset tonight, January 12, and you’re guaranteed to know immediately which point of light is Venus. Hint: It will be the astonishingly bright one. Now get your telescope. As the planet arrives at its greatest angular distance to the east of the Sun, you won’t be able to see surface features, as you sometimes can when looking at Mars, or identify stunning cloud swirls as you might see when viewing Jupiter, because Venus’s thick and unforgiving clouds conceal the planet’s mountains below. But with the help of a telescope, you’ll be able to see that Venus doesn’t appear to be a full circle.

Here’s why: it’s at greatest eastern elongation tonight. What’s that? Elongation is the angle between the planet and the Sun from Earth. To understand elongation, point at the Sun as it sets. With your other hand, point at Venus. Simply put, the angle that your arms make is the elongation. Because planets are ever in motion and orbiting at speeds different from one another, that angle is ever in flux. Repeat this process in March and you’ll notice a big difference in the directions of your arms.

The largest this angle will ever get in an orbit is its greatest elongation. When greatest elongation occurs at sunset, it’s said to be at greatest eastern elongation. That’s what we have tonight. When it occurs at sunrise, it is at greatest western…