Thursday, December 1, 2016

Life on Venus

The golden age of science fiction often imagined Venus as a jungle world, steamy and wet, where shipwrecked astronauts were driven insane by the incessant pounding of tropical downpours, as in Ray Bradbury’s ‘The Long Rain’.

The reality of Venus is a world that’s  searingly hot, covered in toxic clouds and with a corrosive atmosphere that’s inimical to life as we know it. But, just as the current exploration of Mars is finding evidence that surface water was once present on that arid planet, another group of scientists is investigating the history of our warmer sister planet.

Earth and Venus have a lot in common: they’re about the same size and density, and the fact that they formed around the same time in the primordial solar system suggests they share a lot of the same materials. Venus has a high ratio of deuterium to hydrogen atoms in its atmosphere, which suggests the planet contained a substantial amount of water at one time that could – as on Earth – have hosted the building blocks of life. NASA is currently considering two options for remote exploration of Venus, including a high resolution mapping mission and the tortuously acronymed Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble Gases, Chemistry, and Imaging (DAVINCI) mission, both of which could rewrite our understanding of Venus and how we think about potentially life-bearing extra-solar planets in the future.

This article originally appeared in Beyond, my free newsletter for lovers of science and science fiction. Sign up here -

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