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Why is venus sky green?

Venus is known for having a thick, cloudy atmosphere that gives the planet a yellowish-green hue when viewed from space. But why exactly does Venus’ sky appear greenish in color? In this article, we’ll explore the composition of Venus’ atmosphere and the specific properties that lead to its greenish glow.

Venus is often called Earth’s twin planet due to their similar sizes and masses. However, the two planets have vastly different atmospheres. While Earth’s atmosphere consists mainly of nitrogen and oxygen, Venus’ atmosphere is made up primarily of carbon dioxide with thick clouds of sulfuric acid. These clouds are the main reason that Venus’ sky looks greenish.

The color of a planet’s atmosphere is determined by what wavelengths of light are absorbed or reflected by molecules and particles in the atmosphere. In the case of Venus, the main contributors to the planet’s coloration are:

  • Sulfur dioxide gas
  • Sulfuric acid droplets
  • Chlorine gas

When sunlight hits Venus’ upper atmosphere, these chemical species absorb certain wavelengths of light while reflecting or transmitting others. Specifically, the compounds absorb a lot of the reddish and ultraviolet light from the sun while reflecting back green and blue wavelengths. This selective absorption shapes the color of the light that gets diffused and scattered around Venus’ thick cloud layer, giving the atmosphere its greenish hue.

Composition of Venus’ Atmosphere

In order to understand why Venus’ sky appears green, we first need to take a closer look at the composition of the planet’s atmosphere. Here is a breakdown of the main gases, clouds, and hazes that make up Venus’ skies:

Carbon Dioxide

Venus’ atmosphere is 96.5% carbon dioxide. This gas allows visible light to pass through but strongly absorbs infrared radiation from the surface. The huge concentration of CO2 is the reason Venus has a powerful greenhouse effect that heats its surface to nearly 900°F.

Sulfur Dioxide

Sulfur dioxide gas makes up about 150 parts per million of Venus’ atmosphere. SO2 molecules strongly absorb ultraviolet radiation from the sun. This absorption is a major contributor to the planet’s greenish hue.

Sulfuric Acid Clouds

Thick clouds of sulfuric acid droplets cover Venus from about 30 to 60 kilometers above the surface. These clouds reflect back a large portion of the visible light that makes it through the upper layers, scattering back green and blue wavelengths.

Chlorine Compounds

Chlorine gases like hydrogen chloride and chlorine monoxide are also present in trace amounts. Like sulfur dioxide, chlorine compounds preferentially absorb reddish ultraviolet light.

Other Gases

Small amounts of other gases like water vapor, carbon monoxide, helium, and neon are also found in Venus’ skies. But these have minimal effects on the planet’s color.

How Light Interacts with Venus’ Atmosphere

Now that we know the key contents of Venus’ atmosphere, let’s take a closer look at what happens when sunlight enters the picture. Here is an overview of how incoming light interacts with the planet’s gases and clouds to produce the greenish coloration:

Absorption of Ultraviolet Light

As sunlight first passes through the upper layers of Venus’ atmosphere, a significant portion of the ultraviolet light is absorbed by sulfur dioxide and chlorine gases. These compounds preferentially soak up wavelengths like violet, indigo, and red.

Scattering by Haze Particles

Tiny sub-micron haze particles lurk above the main sulfuric acid cloud deck. These particles scatter violet and blue light, allowing green and yellowish wavelengths to pass through the haze layer.

Reflection and Scattering by Clouds

When light reaches Venus’ colossal sulfuric acid clouds, much of the remaining visible radiation gets reflected and scattered back upward. The cloud tops have a yellowish color that gives reflected light a greenish-yellow hue.

Green Light Persists

By the time light filters through absorbing gases, reflective hazes, and huge acidic clouds, much of the red, orange, and ultraviolet light has been removed. Most of the light left over is in the green, yellow, and blue part of the spectrum, giving Venus’ sky its greenish coloration.

Evidence for Venus’ Greenish Hue

We have several lines of evidence supporting the idea that Venus’ atmosphere distorts incoming light in a way that gives the planet its greenish visual appearance. Here are some key observations:

Direct Imaging

Photographs and video taken by spacecraft that imaged Venus’ cloud tops directly show a yellowish-green hue. This includes images from NASA’s Pioneer Venus mission in the late 1970s.

Spacecraft Date Images Showing Greenish Color
Pioneer Venus Orbiter 1978
Galileo 1990
Akatsuki 2015


Detailed spectroscopy of sunlight reflecting off Venus’ cloud tops shows the atmosphere absorbing reddish and ultraviolet light while reflecting back green and blue wavelengths.

Cloud Composition

Lab experiments that recreated Venus’ cloud conditions produced similar greenish colors when illuminated. This supports the idea that sulfuric acid clouds scatter light in a way that leads to greenish hues.

Computer Modeling

Models that simulate how Venus’ atmospheric gases interact with light produce a similar greenish appearance. This further validates theories about Venus’ color.

Mechanisms That Enhance Green Light

Several physical and chemical mechanisms have been proposed to explain exactly how Venus’ atmosphere absorbs “non-green” wavelengths while enhancing the green color that gives Venus its visual signature. Here are some of the leading theories:

Absorption by Sulfur Compounds

Sulfur dioxide and other sulfur compounds preferentially absorb ultraviolet and violet light above Venus’ cloud layers. This removes red photons before light penetrates deeper.

Mie Scattering

Mie scattering theory suggests that spherical droplets within Venus’ sulfuric acid clouds scatter violet wavelengths more strongly than green, allowing green to pass through the cloud deck.

Resonance Scattering

Certain molecules like chlorine gases resonantly scatter red photons within narrow ultraviolet bands, filtering these colors out of the reflected light.


Some molecules like sulfur dioxide can absorb higher frequencies of light and re-emit photons at lower green frequencies through fluorescence, boosting the green hues.

Unknown Chromophores

Researchers speculate there may be additional unknown “chromophore” compounds in Venus’ clouds that strongly absorb reddish light while transmitting or fluorescing green.

Variation in Venus’ Hue

While Venus commonly appears yellowish-green when viewed in broadband visible light, the exact hue varies depending on several factors:

Viewing Angle

The angle between the viewer and sun affects the path length of light through the atmosphere, impacting the color. Side-scattered light appears more greenish.

Phase Angle Appearance
Small (backscatter) More yellow due to increased path length
Large (forward scatter) More blue due to shorter path length


At higher altitudes in Venus’ atmosphere, the hue tends towards bluish. At lower altitudes it appears more yellowish.

Cloud Thickness

Variation in the thickness and density of the cloud deck influences how much green light gets scattered back to space.

Observation Wavelength

Different wavelengths see Venus’ clouds as different colors. Blue and violet light reveal a more yellowish hue while red and near-infrared show a blue color.


In summary, Venus’ greenish atmospheric glow arises from:

  • Absorption of ultraviolet and violet light by sulfur dioxide and chlorine above the cloud tops.
  • Scattering of blue wavelengths and transmission of yellow-greens by the upper haze layers.
  • Mie scattering and additional absorption within the thick sulfuric acid cloud deck that reflects back greenish-yellow hues.

Combinations of these effects shape the distribution of colors that give Venus its unique appearance. The exact tone varies based on viewing geometry, altitude, and wavelength, but the prevalence of green is consistent across most observations.

Studying the peculiar visual properties of Venus’ atmosphere provides insights into the composition, structure, and complexity of the planet’s cloud chemistry and dynamics. As we continue observing Earth’s sister planet, further unraveling the mysteries of Venus’ shades of green remains an intriguing goal for planetary scientists.