To find life in the universe, look to deadly Venus | Science & Technology

Despite surface temperatures hot enough to melt lead, lava-spewing volcanoes, and puffy clouds of sulfuric acid, uninhabitable Venus offers vital lessons about the potential for life on other planets, a new paper argues.

“We often assume that Earth is the model of habitability, but if you consider this planet in isolation, we don’t know where the boundaries and limitations are,” said UC Riverside astrophysicist and paper first author Stephen Kane. “Venus gives us that.”

Published today in the journal Nature Astronomy, the paper compiles much of the known information about Earth and Venus. It also describes Venus as an anchor point from which scientists can better understand the conditions that preclude life on planets around other stars.

Though it also features a pressure cooker-like atmosphere that would instantly flatten a human, Earth and Venus share some similarities. They have roughly the same mass and radius. Given the proximity to that planet, it’s natural to wonder why Earth turned out so differently.

Many scientists assume that insolation flux, the amount of energy Venus receives from the sun, caused a runaway greenhouse situation that ruined the planet.

“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,” Kane said. “But hold on a second. Venus doesn’t have a moon, which is what gives Earth things like ocean tides and influenced the amount of water here.”

In addition to some of the known differences, more NASA missions to Venus would help clear up some of the unknowns. Scientists don’t know the size of its core, how it got to its present, relatively slow rotation rate, how its magnetic field changed over time, or anything about the chemistry of the lower atmosphere.

“Venus doesn’t have a detectable magnetic field. That could be related to the size of its core,” Kane said. “Core size also give us information about how a planet cools itself. Earth has a mantle…


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