Greenhouse effect among lessons Venus can teach us, scientists say

Space Science

A volcano named Sapas Mons dominates this computer-generated view of the surface of Venus. (Solar System Visualization project and the Magellan Science team at the JPL Multimission Image Processing Laboratory)

MYSTERY WIRE — The planet Venus is only about 100 days away as the spacecraft flies, and it may hold some of the answers to humanity’s biggest questions. With NASA preparing to send a mission to Mars, many are looking beyond that to what’s next — possibly Venus.

Jeff Glor of CBS News gives a brief history of previous Venus missions and looks ahead to the reasons to go back to the second planet from the sun:

At NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Sue Smrekar is the top advocate for a mission to Venus. Among the project she is working on: VERITAS, a mission to answer the overarching question, “How Earthlike is Venus?”

“Venus is like a lost world,” Smrekar says. “It has myths. It’s shrouded in clouds, and mystery. But there’s a whole suite of instruments that we would like to send there to unveil what’s beneath those clouds and really discover those secrets.

Mars has been the focus of NASA’s attention over the past decade.

The huge challenges presented by Mars could pale in comparison to the issues presented by another trip to Venus. It’s been referred to as “the hell of the solar system.” It can melt lead, and there are sulphuric acid rainstorms. Why go?

This global view of the surface of Venus is centered at 180 degrees east longitude. Magellan synthetic aperture radar mosaics from the first cycle of Magellan mapping are mapped onto a computer-simulated globe to create this image. (NASA/JPL)

“Venus has so many lessons for understanding rocky planets in general, and particularly for understanding Earth,” Smrekar says.

Scientists at NASA say Venus was probably the first planet in the solar system to have the conditions to allow life to form. But its atmosphere is now at 97% carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping gas that is super-heating the planet. Finding out why that happened could help us understand what’s taking place on Earth.

“We can learn about the very early processes that shaped the surface of the earth if we understand what’s going on today on Venus. And we have this greenhouse that is incredibly intense on Venus. So it has tons of lessons to take in as we try to prevent our greenhouse from getting worse.

Mike Watkins, JPL’s director: “If you look at Venus, the Earth and Mars, you see three almost-identical planets, kind of in similar locations. They probably started off similarly and they went completely different directions. Mars turned into a desert with a very thin atmosphere. Venus turned into an oven with a very thick atmosphere. And we turned out … Goldilocks — just perfect. Ane I think scientists would like to understand exactly, how did that happen? And what drove that?

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