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The phenomenon of day and night is due to the rotation of a celestial body about its axis, creating an illusion of the sun rising and setting. Different bodies spin at very different rates, however. Some may spin much faster than Earth, while others spin extremely slowly, leading to very long days and nights. The planet Venus rotates once every 224. 7 days – by far the slowest rotation period of any of the major planets. In contrast, the gas giant Jupiter's sidereal day is only 9 hours and 56 minutes. However, it is not just the sidereal rotation period which determines the length of a planet's day-night cycle but the length of its orbital period as well - Venus has a rotation period of 224. 7 days, but a day-night cycle just 116. 75 days long due to its retrograde rotation and orbital motion around the Sun. Mercury has the longest day-night cycle as a result of its 3:2 resonance between its orbital period and rotation period - this resonance gives it a day-night cycle 176 days long. A planet may experience large temperature variations between day and night, such as Mercury, the planet closest to the sun. This is one consideration in terms of planetary habitability or the possibility of extraterrestrial life.

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