November 29, 2007

A Different Kind of Venus...

Venus recently seems to be a hot topic, and for good reason: the ESA's Venus Express probe has been churning out some very interesting data. You can even check out our most recent Venus post titled The Oceans of Venus for even more information.

We know that the solar wind interacts with the hydrogen in Venus' atmosphere, causing it to forever be lost in space. More recently, we have discovered that oxygen has been escaping the atmosphere all along as well. This is an exciting discovery because since the structure of water, obviously made up of both hydrogen and oxygen, has been escaping into the atmosphere, with enough data, we can reverse this process mathematically and determine how much water has escaped into space.

Venus expert, David Grinspoon, thinks the amount of water is indeed significant: nearly as much as the oceans of Earth (Source: Daily Galaxy). He actually authors a book called Life on Venus, in which he states that 4 billion years ago, when the Sun's heat output was little more than half of its current output, that Earth was likely too cold to support life but Venus would have been right in the middle of the habitable zone.

Daily Galaxy blogger Doug Aamoth brought up an interesting point in his article: if intelligent life existed on Venus we'd have no clue. The solar system is 5 billion years old, and if a civilization were present on Venus, all traces would be completely wiped clean in a mere 50,000 years by natural geologic process. Very intriguing and makes one think: if they were there, could they have made it off the rock before the greenhouse effect ran rampant?

The ESA held a press conference today discussing the findings of the Venus Express. We can look forward to the findings to be officially published in an upcoming issue of the Nature journal, but we can see what researcher Dmitri Titov says about the findings:

"An important first set of results concerns the complex dynamics and
structure of Venus's atmosphere, studied with a whole suite of instruments. The
spacecraft has revealed the structure and movements of the atmosphere, from its
upper reaches to just above the surface, and has obtained the best global map of
atmospheric temperatures to date. This is already improving our understanding of
the global dynamics and the meteorology of Venus." (Source: Astronomy Report)

One thing is for certain: Venus is shaping up to be a much livelier, active planet with a richer and more mysterious past than anyone could have ever guessed. This is a planet we will be watching with a close eye for some time, and who knows, maybe there's an archaelogical ruin or two on the scorching surface?