In terms of planetary real estate, Venus is no Fifth Avenue. The moonless, ringless planet might mirror Earth in size and rocky composition but it would be murder to live there. The surface, at about 460°C, is hot enough to melt lead and the atmospheric pressure is high enough to crush a human.

A suffocating atmosphere of carbon dioxide is scattered with clouds that rain down droplets of sulphuric acid. And yet there is a slender chance that life hovers above this hostile world, which spins in the opposite direction from most planets and has sunrises more than a year apart.

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