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How the ‘hellish’ planet Venus can help us find alien life

Despite its extreme conditions, featuring surface temperatures that can melt lead, volcanoes that spew lava, and thick clouds of sulfuric acid, Venus provides into the search for life on other planets, according to a new study from .

“We often assume that Earth is the model of , but if you consider this planet in isolation, we don’t know where the boundaries and limitations are,” said lead author Stephen Kane, a professor of planetary astrophysics at UCR. “Venus gives us that.”

Venus as a reference point for life

The experts gathered extensive data on both Earth and Venus, and positioned Venus as a crucial reference point for better understanding the conditions that might preclude life on other planets.

Despite having an atmosphere that would crush a human instantly, Venus shares many similarities with Earth, such as comparable mass and radius. Given their closeness, it raises the question of why Earth’s fate was so different.

Many scientists believe the significant amount of solar energy Venus receives caused its atmosphere to become a runaway greenhouse – a hypothesis that Kane challenges.

“If you consider the solar energy received by Earth as 100%, Venus collects 191%. A lot of people think that’s why Venus turned out differently,” he said. “But hold on a second. Venus doesn’t have a , which is what gives Earth things like ocean tides and influenced the amount of water here.”

More missions to Venus are needed

The paper also emphasizes the need for more missions to Venus to answer unresolved questions about its core size, rotation rate, magnetic field changes, and atmospheric chemistry.

“Venus doesn’t have a detectable . That could be related to the size of its core,” Kane explained. “Core size also gives us information about how a planet cools itself. Earth has a mantle circulating heat from its core. We don’t know what’s happening inside Venus.”

Understanding the inner workings of Venus is vital because a planet’s interior dynamics greatly affect its atmosphere. This is evident on Earth, where the atmosphere is largely influenced by volcanic activity.

Upcoming NASA missions

NASA’s upcoming missions, and , will further explore these aspects. The DAVINCI mission will analyze the planet’s thick atmosphere, and VERITAS will focus on the planet’s surface without landing.

“DAVINCI will measure the atmosphere all the way from the top to the bottom. That will really help us build new climate models and predict these kinds of atmospheres elsewhere, including on Earth, as we keep increasing the amount of CO2,” Kane said.

According to the scientists, these missions will not only improve our understanding of Venus but also refine our assessments of possibilities.

Studying Venus to preserve life

“The sobering part of the search for life elsewhere in the universe is that we’re never going to have in situ data for an exoplanet. We aren’t going there, landing, or taking direct measurements of them,” Kane said. “If we think another planet has life on the surface, we might not ever know we’re wrong, and we’d be dreaming about a planet with life that doesn’t have it. We are only going to get that right by properly understanding the Earth-size planets we can visit, and Venus gives us that chance.”

“One of the main reasons to study Venus is because of our sacred duties as caretakers of this planet, to preserve its future. My hope is that through studying the processes that produced present-day Venus, especially if Venus had a more temperate past that’s now devastated, there are lessons there for us. It can happen to us. It’s a question of how and when,” Kane concluded.

Intriguing facts about Venus

Venus, often dubbed Earth’s “sister planet” due to its similar size and proximity, holds a variety of intriguing characteristics that set it apart in our solar system:

Extreme atmosphere

Venus has an incredibly thick atmosphere composed mostly of carbon dioxide, with clouds of sulfuric acid, making it inhospitable. This atmosphere creates a runaway greenhouse effect, leading to surface temperatures hot enough to melt lead – about 900 degrees Fahrenheit (475 degrees Celsius).

Crushing pressure

The surface pressure on Venus is about 92 times that of Earth, equivalent to the pressure found at about 3,000 feet (900 meters) underwater on Earth. This extreme pressure would crush most human-made objects.

Retrograde rotation

Venus rotates on its axis in the opposite direction to most planets in the solar system, including Earth. This means the Sun rises in the west and sets in the east on Venus. Additionally, a day on Venus (one complete rotation on its axis) is longer than its year (one complete orbit around the Sun). It takes about 243 Earth days to rotate once, but only about 225 Earth days to complete an orbit.

Volcanic landscape

Venus is covered with numerous and has a surface dominated by volcanic plains. It has more volcanoes than any other planet in the solar system, with over 1,600 major volcanoes, many of which are believed to still be active.

Lack of water vapor

Despite being similar to Earth in size and composition, Venus has almost no water vapor in its atmosphere, and its surface is a dry, desert-like landscape. Any water that might have been present in the past likely evaporated due to the intense heat.

Brightest planet

Venus is the brightest planet in our solar system and is often visible from Earth with the naked eye. It can appear as a bright star-like object in the morning or evening sky, which is why it’s sometimes called the Morning Star or Evening Star.

Mysterious wind patterns

Despite the slow rotation on its axis, the atmosphere of Venus rotates much faster than the planet itself, a phenomenon known as super-rotation. Winds in the upper atmosphere can reach speeds up to 220 miles per hour (360 kilometers per hour).

These unique and extreme conditions make Venus an interesting subject of study to understand planetary processes and atmospheric dynamics in our solar system.