Venus’s unique position in the Solar System makes it visible both in the morning and in the evening from Earth. Because of this, ancient humans even thought Venus was two different stars. This begs the question: just how far away is Venus?
Let’s Talk About Distances in Space
There’s a lot of ground to cover in the Solar System, let alone the universe. Over the years, scientists have become creative with ways to explain distances between celestial bodies.
Miles (or Kilometers)
Traveling through space is not like driving down the road, but we can still use miles or kilometers to talk about the distance from point A to point B in the Solar System. This measurement quickly turns from millions to billions and beyond, so it only gets us so far.
Our Sun is still 93 million miles (150 million kilometers) from Earth. The next closest star is an incredible 25,300,000,000,000 miles (about 39,900,000,000,000 kilometers) away. It would take more than 48 million years to drive there!
To simplify some of these large distances within our own Solar System, scientists developed the astronomical unit (AU). One astronomical unit is precisely the distance from the center of Earth to the center of our Sun, 92,955,807.2 miles (149,597,870.7 kilometers).
Astronomers have used this measurement to explain distances in our Solar System for a few hundred years. As we’ve discovered other planetary systems around the universe, they often use the astronomical unit to describe distances within those systems as well.
Talking in light years is a little extreme when looking within the Solar System but quickly becomes essential once you venture beyond its confines. Since light always travels at a constant speed in a vacuum, scientists can use that velocity to accurately calculate distance based on how long it takes light to travel from one place to the next.
For example, the Sun is only eight light minutes away from Earth. Light that leaves our star travels through space for eight minutes before reaching our planet. It takes light from the next closest star four and a quarter years to reach us.
How Far Is Venus From the Sun?
Of the eight planets that orbit the Sun, Venus is the second closest. On average, Venus travels through space some 67,237,910 miles (108,208,930 km) away. This equates to just over 0.72 AU. As with all planets, Venus’s orbit is not a perfect circle but rather elliptical in shape.
As a result, Venus has points where it is closest to (called perihelion) and furthest away from (called aphelion) the Sun that it’s going to get. When at perihelion, Venus sits 66,782,000 miles (107,476,000 kilometers) away and travels out to 67,693,000 miles (108,942,000 kilometers) at aphelion. This small difference is just under one million miles, or 0.1 AU.
How Far Away Is Venus From the Earth?
Outside of the Moon, Venus is our closest natural neighbor. After the Moon, it is the second brightest object in the night sky any time we’re able to see it.
However, calculating the distance between Earth and Venus isn’t an easy task. Venus has a smaller orbit than Earth, and both planets are blazing through space at different speeds. In fact, Venus moves 78,341 miles per hour (126,077 kilometers per hour), over 10,000 miles per hour (15,000 kilometers per hour) faster than Earth.
Since Venus laps the Earth about once every 1.6 years, it’s hard to pick an average distance between the two. We’re left looking at just how close and just how far the two planets can be from each other.
Earth and Venus at Their Closest
At that point where Venus passes as close as it’s ever going to be to Earth, it’s a close 24 million miles (38 million kilometers) away. That’s just over a quarter of an astronomical unit apart. While this distance still seems like a lot, it pales in comparison to just how distant every other object in the Solar System can be.
This proximity is a major factor in why Venus is so bright in the sky. Venus also has a very reflective cloud cover that bounces a lot of light in our direction as well. Looking up, Venus’s apparent magnitude of -4.7 really makes it stand out.
Earth and Venus at Their Farthest
In contrast, there are times where Venus and Earth aren’t even on the same side of the Sun. When these two planets are at a maximum distance apart, there are 162 million miles (261 million kilometers) between them. At 1.74 AU, this shows there’s a considerable range of distances these two planets can be at any one time.
How Long Would It Take To Get to Venus?
As discussed above, the amount of time to get to Venus can vary significantly depending on each planet’s location in relation to each other. When it comes to light, that variance matters a lot less.
With light traveling 186,000 miles per second (299,300 kilometers per second), it can travel between Earth and Venus in short order. When the two planets are at their closest, it takes no more than two and a quarter minutes to make the journey. When furthest apart, travel time increases to 14.5 minutes.
Admittedly, it’s not quite so easy when launching rockets into space. Several spacecraft have made the trip, and travel times are fairly consistent. It takes about four months to reach Venus, with Mariner 2 making the trip the fastest at 109 days. The longest trip to date was Pioneer Venus 1, taking six and a half months to get there.
What Year Will We Go to Venus?
Missions to Venus slowed considerably after the Magellan orbiter ended its mission in 1994. After nearly 30 years, NASA has once again returned its attention to our closest planetary neighbor.
Although similar in size to Earth, the atmosphere of Venus couldn’t be any more different. A thick atmosphere makes it hard to decipher what’s even happening down on the surface. NASA hopes to send spacecraft to penetrate the atmosphere and really understand what things are like down there.
Can We Live on Venus?
In many ways, Venus is to Earth as up is to down. Where the Earth has pristine waters, breathable air, and temperate weather, Venus is in every way the opposite.
Venus’s thick atmosphere is primarily made of carbon dioxide with clouds of sulfuric acid. The heavy gas creates a greenhouse effect that traps heat down near the surface. This makes Venus the hottest planet in the Solar System, even though Mercury is closer to the Sun!
With temperatures frequently reaching 880 degrees Fahrenheit (471 degrees Celsius), Venus is hot enough to melt lead. Any spacecraft that have been sent to investigate the planet’s surface have lasted no more than a few hours.
Venus is also extremely dry. After all, temperatures are far too hot for liquid water to exist. The surface sees way more molten activity than it should, leaving scientists wondering what’s happening down there.
All these factors make it clear that humans have no hope of surviving on such a hostile world. It would take technology we don’t yet have to brave the elements and explore the Venusian surface.
Venus shines bright in our night sky thanks to its proximity and reflections from its atmosphere. Even when furthest away from Earth, this incredible world is still our closest planetary neighbor.
However, once we travel below the clouds, we’re treated to suffocating pressure and unbearable heat. Although surrounded by many mysteries, Venus still makes for an incredible photo opportunity.