Ever since we have had our eyes on the coveted space, we have wanted to colonise other planets. In other words, we have been looking for options on which human life can be lived and can prosper. For a long period, researches have been conducted to find out whether there are certain planets on which life can pertain or not. The top contenders that arise in this list are our neighbours: Venus and Mars. We have already discussed a lot about Mars in our previous articles, you can have a look at them. Now, it’s time to delve into some stuff related to Venus.
Venus, the second planet from the Sun and the planet just ahead of our Earth, is also called ‘Earth’s sister’ for the various similarities both planets share. Apart from being almost similar in size, they both are similar in mass and composition. So could we make Venus, an Earth-like planet? Could we terraform Venus? What happens if we terraform Venus? Let’s dive deep into all these questions and try to answer them.
What is the terraformation of Venus?
As explained in the terraformation of Mars article, terraformation of Venus is the process of engineering the global environment of Venus in an Earth-like manner. This is done to make the planet fit for human settlement. The concept of terraformation of Mars was first proposed by an astronomer named Carl Sagan in 1961.
Terraformation of Venus isn’t an easy task to take hold of. Every bit of change to be implemented on the planet requires extensive research and a lot of effort. It involves various complex steps such as altering the planet’s atmosphere, its rotating speed and many such factors. Over the past century, the concepts of terraforming Venus has arrived multiple times, ranging from science fiction to researching studies.
What are the conditions on Venus?
Venus is considered as the living hell in quite some ways. For starters, its atmosphere is over 90 times thicker than Earth’s atmosphere and is hot enough to even melt lead. The air on the planet consists majorly of carbon dioxide and sulphuric acid which makes it a deadly combination of air for humans.
Venus is the hottest planet in our solar system even more than Mercury. This doesn’t allow any traces of liquid water with high amounts of surface pressure. Apart from that, Venus also has the slowest rotation speed among any of the major planets.
It takes around 243 days to complete one rotation around its axis and it also spins in the opposite direction as compared to other planets. Also, Venus takes nearly 225 days to orbit the Sun. This essentially means that a solar day on Venus lasts 116.75 days. In other words, it takes four Earth months for the Sun to set on Venus.
But scientists all over the world researching Venus, believe that it is possible that Venus might once have been inhabitable and might have mighty oceans just like the Earth. Scientists also suggest that terraforming could bring back water to the planet.
The benefits of terraforming Venus
The primary objective of terraforming Venus is preparing a backup location for the human race. Venus has similar gravity to Earth. So, humans on Venus will have fewer chances of developing disorders related to weightlessness. Its proximity to Earth also paves the way for it being terraformed.
At the nearest, Venus is nearly 40 million kilometres from Earth much less than 55 million kilometres from Mars. Apart from being the second home, Venus also ensures that Earth remains a viable home for our species.
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Which is easier to terraform: Venus or Mars?
The big dilemma that arises. Which planet should be favoured for terraformation? Both planets have their own sets of advantages and challenges. Some of them can be overcome while some may require thousands of years. But the simpler answer to this complex question is Mars.
This is because it has the perfect length of a day and has the right amount of speed. Whereas Venus has a lot slower speed with much more heat and higher temperature. So, as compared to Venus, Mars is considerably easy to be terraformed. But mind you, not easy enough to be done in the short run.
What are the different challenges for Venus?
For the successful terraformation of Venus, we need to eliminate several shortcomings. There are various challenges in our way such as the dense atmosphere, toxic air, absence of water and many such factors. Let us look at some of the major ones:
1. The dense carbon dioxide atmosphere
The biggest problem associated with the terraformation of Venus is its dense carbon dioxide atmosphere. Carbon dioxide comprises nearly 96.5% of the atmosphere and is much denser than Earth’s atmosphere.
The average surface pressure on the planet is 93 bar which is the pressure found at the depth of 900 m underwater on Earth. The atmosphere also has opaque clouds of sulphuric acid. This leads to severe acid rains on the planet. These clouds also don’t allow optical and orbital observation of the surface.
2. Lack of magnetic field
Venus lacks a magnetic field like that of Earth. The ionosphere separates the atmosphere from outer space and solar wind. This gives Venus a unique magnetic movement called the Venus’ induced magnetosphere.
Light gases continuously get wiped away by the solar wind. Estimates say that 4 billion years ago, Venus’ atmosphere was much like that of Earth with liquid water on its surface. But the increased greenhouse effect causes its evaporation and subsequently led to the rise of more greenhouse gases.
3. High temperatures
As said above, Venus is the hottest planet in our Solar system even more than Mercury. This has a lot to do with its dense atmosphere which traps the sun’s radiations (called the greenhouse effect). The average temperature on the surface is nearly 467 degrees Celsius, hot enough to melt metals like lead and zinc.
4. Low speed of rotation
Venus rotates around its axis in around 243 days which is the slowest in our solar system. Thus, Venus has the longest day in the solar system. Such slow rotation of Venus would lead to extremely long days and nights, which would be very difficult for the Earthly species to adapt to.
What do we need to do for successful terraformation of Venus?
The debate about whether Venus could be terraformed or not is an age-long one. For the successful implementation, several major changes need to be done to the planet like:
- Reducing the temperatures of Venus
- Eliminating the atmospheric carbon dioxide and making a thinner atmosphere
- Reducing sulphuric acid could prevent acid rains
- Speeding up its slow rotation speed.
What are the methods to terraform Venus?
Several approaches have been proposed for terraformation. Some of them have been proposed by the man who initialised this concept, Carl Sagan. Some of the methods which could be helpful are mentioned below:
1. The Microbial approach
This was proposed by Carl Sagan and other physicists in the ’60s and ’70s. It focuses on microbiology which could help develop certain species of microbes adapted to the environment of Venus. The question which may arise in your mind is how can they be helpful?
These microbes could possibly reduce a considerable amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and reduce the greenhouse effect. They could also lower the temperature which may lead to Venus being habitable. Mind you, this might not be the fastest method though.
2. Floating Cities
This concept has been proposed by a scientist from NASA named Geoffrey A. Landis. According to him, cities could be made above Venus’s clouds. This could act as a dual advantage, first being a solar shield and secondly as a processing station.
At an altitude of around 50km, the conditions are the most earth-like. These types of colonies or cities could be formed at any rate. They would be the initial living space for the people and could give enough time for turning the atmosphere into a livable one.
3. Bombarding Hydrogen
The other possible way is bombarding hydrogen into the atmosphere from some outer solar system source which will form carbon and water. For the whole conversion of Venus atmosphere, nearly 4*10^20 kg of hydrogen would be required.
The resulting water could cover up around 80% of the planet’s surface. Introducing Hydrogen into Venus would be necessary at a point in time because it is one of the most important elements for life and is used in processes like photosynthesis.
4. Speed up the rotation
Speculations say that for speeding up Venus and for more tilt around its axis, Mercury has to be run in a close flyby and has to be locked in as a moon. But researchers have found some differences.
The slow rotation allows the formation of thick layers of cloud on the side facing the sun which acts as a coolant to the global temperatures. Thus, a terraformed Venus with a slow rotation but conditions like Earth would result in a climate in comparison to Alaska or Siberia.
5. Polar-orbiting mirrors
Paul Birch in 1991 proposed that if a system of mirrors were placed near the L1 point between Sun and Venus, they would reflect sunlight. Thus, if a soletta mirror when placed in a 24-hour polar orbit titled in such a way to focus sunlight striking it on Venus, could produce a 24-hour cycle of light on Venus, quite similar to Earth.
Do we have the required resources?
Terraforming Venus is and will be a great challenge for mankind. Firstly, for reducing the heat and pressure on Venus, a huge amount of energy, resources and infrastructure would be required. Unfortunately, which doesn’t exist till now and would require a lot of investment to build.
For cooling the planet, huge amounts of metals and material would be needed to build orbital shade for Venus. For positioning it at L1, and to be assembled in space, a huge fleet of robot assemblers would be required.
Similarly, for solar orbiting mirrors, a huge amount of advanced material would be required and would have to be continuously placed in space even after the transformation has taken place. The microbiological approach although seeming logical would take no less than some thousand years to show some results. Even the bombarding method, requires enormous amounts of hydrogen from the outer parts of the solar system.
The benefits of terraforming Venus are clear in front of us. But the question that is still to be answered is whether it is possible or not. Not at the earliest because we don’t have enough resources. We still have several challenges in front of us which need to be encountered first to implement terraformation. We need to develop technologies and have to learn about Venus a lot more.
The dense atmosphere, the carbon dioxide gas, immense temperatures, slow rotation everything needs to be encountered first. After that, we can think of having a second home apart from the Earth. So, it is something that humans can’t do in the short run but sooner or later there will be progress.
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Frequently asked questions
Has NASA landed on Venus?
Answer: Yes, NASA’s Mariner 2 successfully flew around Venus and scanned the Venusian world covered by clouds in 1962. Since then various missions have studied Venus in much more detail.
Who named Venus? What does it signify?
Answer: The Romans named the planet Venus for their goddess of love and beauty.
How long will it take to terraform a planet?
Answer: For optimistic reports, it may take up to around 15-20,000 years to make a lifeless planet into an Earth-like planet.
Which is the easiest of all the planets to be terraformed?
Answer: Among all the candidates, such as the moon, Venus, Mars, Mercury and others, Mars seems to be the most prominent candidate for terraforming.
Why is Venus so hot than the other planets?
Answer: The Venusian atmosphere is nearly 90-100 times massive than Earth’s. As sunlight enters the atmosphere, it gets trapped inside it and builds up high temperatures. This effect is commonly called the Greenhouse effect.