Chances are, your students have lived on Earth for most of their lives. Few, if any, have visited other planets in our solar system. But they likely know of these other planets, and may have heard of a little place called Venus. Our closest cosmic neighbor, the gaseous planet has been known to humankind for centuries, and, even from roughly 25 million miles away, you can often see it in the night sky with the naked eye. However, even with super fancy outer space telescopes and such, it’s difficult to get a good look at the interior of Venus. What gives?!
This handy dandy experiment will help you explain to students why Venus is such a tough nut to crack.
Cloudy With A Chance of Waxed Paper
For this Demo Science science demo, you’ll need naught but a flashlight and a square sheet of waxed paper for each student.
Darken the room, then turn on the flashlight and hold it at about waist height, shining out toward your students. Have your students look at the flashlight (without actually staring into it and temporarily blinding themselves) and observe its brightness and other characteristics. Aim your flashlight around the room as needed to give every student a good look.
Then, have them hold up their waxed paper sheets at arm’s length in front of their faces, specifically between their faces and the flashlight. Have them look at the light again and observe the differences with the waxed paper between them and it. What’s different now?
The Food’s Okay, but the Atmosphere is Great!
Viewed through the waxed paper, the light will appear quite blurry indeed. This is caused by the light refracting and bouncing off of the coated paper. This is more or less what happens when we try to look at the surface of Venus.
Light from the sun hits Venus’s thick atmosphere of clouds and refract and bounce off. These clouds are thicker than even the hardiest of pea soups—from what astronomers can tell, visibility on Venus is just over a half-mile at best!