Thursday, July 02, 2020

I Want To Live Under The Sun And High In The Clouds...,


mashable |  “We have better topographic data from Pluto than we do from Venus,” says Darby Dyer, the current chair of NASA’s Venus Exploration Advisory Group, with a frustrated chuckle. “NASA and the majority of planetary scientists have bought into the notion that Mars is the most likely place to have water and evidence of life. Overturning that paradigm is a tough battle, but we’re fighting it.”
Dyer is 62; the days when Venus was thought to be a swamp planet are within her living memory. She also remembers being in grad school at MIT in the 1980s, on the day Ronald Reagan canceled a NASA mission that was going to take an orbital radar to Venus. 

“There were people crying in the corridors,” she says. “Ph.D.s whose whole theses vanished in an instant.” The Venus community gathered its energy and pushed back enough to create one final mission, planned for 1986, which was delayed by the Challenger shuttle explosion until 1989. That was Magellan. 

Still, even with that Magellan data and our limited Earth-based spectroscopy, what wonders and mysteries we’ve been able to uncover. There are the strange dark patches, large enough to affect the planet’s weather, which may be where those microorganisms are hanging out. A 2020 study says that Venus’ volcanoes are still active, erupting as we speak.

And it’s only been four years since a groundbreaking study that suggested we might have been right all along about Venus being covered in liquid water; we just got the wrong era. Turns out Venus had oceans between 4 billion and 1 billion years ago — way longer than liquid water existed on Mars, and more than enough time for it to develop life. 

“If you had water for 3 billion years, life probably arose on Venus before it did on Earth,” says Dyar. “Maybe they had trilobites in those oceans; maybe they got as far as whales.” 

We may raise CO2 in the atmosphere to the point where it threatens the threads of human civilization, but only a growing sun can boil the oceans and burn the land, creating enough CO2 to dominate the atmosphere for a full-on runaway greenhouse effect. 

But! It’s also possible that Venus was slammed by multiple impacts, including a possible former moon, which might explain why the whole place is spinning upside-down and so slowly. You know what would help us figure it out? More data. 

Right now we don’t even know what Venus’ core is made of, or whether it has tectonic plates like Earth, or whether there’s evidence of old oceans to be found in the atmosphere, or exactly what kind of organisms have clung to it like mushrooms thriving in the radioactive ruin of Chernobyl’s old reactor

It won’t be dinosaurs, but life on Venus may well have, uh, found a way

The question is: How soon can we?