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Space Science

New Results From Venus Express 90

Posted by kdawson
from the evil-twin dept.
Riding with Robots writes "For the past two years, Europe's Venus Express orbiter has been studying Earth's planetary neighbor up close. Today, mission scientists have released a new collection of findings and amazing images. They include evidence of lightning and other results that flesh out a portrait of a planet that is in many ways like ours, and in other ways hellishly different, such as surface temperatures over 400C and air pressure a hundred times that on Earth. The article lists seven papers that will be published today in Nature."
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New Results From Venus Express

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  • by techpawn (969834) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @11:05AM (#21518021) Journal
    Heard this on NPR last night about how it may of had oceans at one time and they may have evaporated due to climate change (caused by solar flairs).

    That sparked a debate between me and the other passengers about evolution via traveling to earth from Venus and the thought of doing the same to Mars...
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 29, 2007 @11:23AM (#21518275)
      Sun: We need to talk about your flair.
      Venus: Really? I have 15 pieces on. I also...
      Sun: Well, 15 is the minimum, okay?
      Venus: Oh, okay.
      Sun: Now, you know, it's up to you whether or not you wanna just do the bare minimum or...well, like Earth for example, has 37 pieces of flair on today. And a terrific smile.
      • by Cervantes (612861)
        +1 Awesome.

        (I was going to give you +0.00015 awesome, but I must have screwed up the math somewhere....)
    • by jkmullins (643492)

      Heard this on NPR last night about how it may of had oceans at one time and they may have evaporated due to climate change (caused by solar flairs).

      That sparked a debate between me and the other passengers about evolution via traveling to earth from Venus and the thought of doing the same to Mars...

      Not to be too nitpicky, but I think the term you are looking for here is "panspermia," not "evolution." The origin of life, like you are talking about, is a separate issue from evolution.

  • In NASA [nasa.gov] the imaginary clouds don't move.
  • by ByOhTek (1181381) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @11:09AM (#21518073) Journal

    They include evidence of lightning and other results that flesh out a portrait of a planet that is in many ways like ours, and in other ways hellishly different, such as surface temperatures over 400C and air pressure a hundred times that on Earth.


    <SARCASM>
    Ahh, dense and full of hot air. Definetly proof that women come from there!
    </SARCASM>
  • is it just me or does the photo captioned 'Interaction between Venus and the solar wind' look like something you'd see on random japanese anime with large robots and people shooting beams from their hands?

    on a more serious note, pretty pictures :)
  • by downix (84795) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @11:14AM (#21518151) Homepage
    The next headline from a Venusian lander will be "Lander finds newspaper with headline 'President claims Global Warming a myth'".
    • by CFBMoo1 (157453)
      I'm not sure paper would survive in it's atmosphere. It'd have to be one hell of a news paper.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by thrillseeker (518224)
      The next headline from a Venusian lander will be "Lander finds newspaper with headline 'President claims Global Warming a myth'".

      No, Carl Rove had all those destroyed by our secret space force - you don't think NASA has actually been twiddling its thumbs the last 40 years do you?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MBGMorden (803437)
      While I do think global warming is serious issue that needs to be looked at, I don't think we have enough fossil fuels on the whole planet to burn that would screw Earth up to anything close to the situation on Venus. The one of the previous mass extinctions in Earth's history was attributed to severe volcanic eruptions that released about 6 times as much CO2 in the atmosphere as man has since the start of the Industrial Revolution.

      Now, that to me is a scary and still hopeful message at the same time. One
      • by E++99 (880734)

        The one of the previous mass extinctions in Earth's history was attributed to severe volcanic eruptions that released about 6 times as much CO2 in the atmosphere as man has since the start of the Industrial Revolution.

        Now, that to me is a scary and still hopeful message at the same time. One: six times as much doesn't seem like THAT much more. Considering that this resulted in well over 90% of all life on the planet dieing, that's not a pretty picture.

        If you're talking about the K-T extinction, the idea tha

        • by MBGMorden (803437)

          If you're talking about the K-T extinction, the idea that it was caused by CO2 is a fringe theory to say the least! (But maybe that's the kind the sells better at the Discovery channel, I don't know.) The mainstream theory that involve volcanoes attribute it to volcanic ash in the upper atmosphere, blocking out or dimming the sun for an extended period of time.

          No, it wasn't the K-T. Looking at a listing of major extinction events I'm almost certain the one that I read about was the Permian-Triassic extinction event.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Xonstantine (947614)
        Humans, as we exist today, would probably survive a KT extinction level event. We are omnivorous, warm blooded, spread across the entire planet, adaptable to almost any environment, and capable of changing our environment on a micro scale in small numbers, and a macro scale in large numbers. And we have all sorts of structures above and below ground that were designed to withstand rather extreme events like nuclear explosions mere hundreds of meters away while keeping the inhabitants of the structures rea
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by argStyopa (232550)
      Of course, you mean this as an amusing and ironic comment on the fact that a case of abundantly-obvious global warming would be denied by a fictionalized idiot president, of course drawing a parallel to our own president.

      I'd instead say it's more useful to point to the ACTUAL lack of any humans, SUVs, or even Republicans on Venus... nevertheless *somehow* the planet's climate was overwhelmed by global warming.

      Hm, that might almost lead one to think humans have nothing to do with the process at all.
      • by lessthan (977374)
        I'm at a loss. How does the lack of humans on Venus demonstrate that humanity cannot affect our planet's global warming? Does a wildfire sparked by a lightening strike as opposed to being sparked by a cigarette prove that humans don't start wildfires?
        • by argStyopa (232550)
          You're right - it's a deliberately specious point.

          However, I've had many a conversation with people who are convinced that global warming is happening exclusively BECAUSE of humans.

          This would actually *only* prove that it's certainly possible to have global warming without people, not that our global warming is or isn't caused by humans.
          • by downix (84795)
            Actually if you ever study climatology, you would run across the "Hockey Stick" that begins upon the industrial revolution. You see, you can take sun activity and combine it with volcanic activity, and map out tens if not hundreds of thousands of climate activity, down to the year, and it all matches. All until the 1850's, when suddenly the temperature started shifting upwards. According to volcanic/sun activity, this year *should* have given my area a peak temp of roughly 85, rather than the 115 that we
    • by Shadowlore (10860)
      The next headline from a Venusian lander will be "Lander finds newspaper with headline 'President claims Global Cooling a myth'".

      There fixed that for you. ;^)

      Insert flames below this line.
  • Interesting to note the stripping of the atmosphere by the solar winds - yet - it's still incredibly dense for millenia. "Something" is replenishing it doncha think?
    • by Jeng (926980)
      I believe that is one reason they are searching hard for evidence of volcanic activity on the planet.

      Though if you crank up the surface temperature of a planet up to 400 degrees alot of things that normally wouldn't be a gas now are.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by SatanicPuppy (611928) *
      It is a planet...That's a hell of a lot of atmosphere to strip.

      Moreover as the ground temperature rises, you have more things transitioning to gas phase, and more gases means more atmosphere...Lot of the dense stuff will be more resistant to being stripped as well. Without knowing the amounts of various things that could have been stripped, as well as the pressure over time...If the planet had massive water oceans like earth, it could be that they stayed liquid for quite a long time if the atmospheric press
    • That would be news in ancient Rome.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Smidge204 (605297)
      So I have a box full of pingpong balls and .50 calibre lead shot. I remove most or all the pingpong balls. Now the density of the mixture has increased even though I have not "replenished" anything.

      In the case of Venus, you can substitute lighter gasses (Hydrogen, Nitrogen, etc) with heavier gasses (carbon and sulfur compounds).
      =Smidge=
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by antifoidulus (807088)
        So I have a box full of pingpong balls and .50 calibre lead shot.

        Sounds like the cops are going to be paying a visit to your fraternity house before the night is through.....
  • a planet that is in many ways like ours, and in other ways hellishly different, such as surface temperatures over 400C

    Sounds like Canada in the springtime, in the 2080's.

  • I would think the first step would be to boost the planet to an orbit further away from the sun. Speeding up it's orbit would do that, but I wonder if anyone conceived of a method of doing so?
    • by ByOhTek (1181381)
      Actually, it's current orbit isn't the problem by most theories I've seen.

      The dense atmosphere, and composition of the atmosphere are the problem. It would have to have it's atmosphere stripped, and replaced with something containing nitrogen/oxygen/water, that is as dense as that of earth, maybe slightly less
      • That doesn't address the problem of the lack of a strong planetary magnetic field, and the damage that allows the sun to do to its atmosphere. Evidence suggests that Venus once had plenty of liquid water...We can determine that because it's still boiling off into space.

        Even if we controlled the greenhouse effect and fixed the atmosphere (wouldn't be surprised if these were strongly related as temperature and pressure are certainly related, even on a planetary scale, so a more moderate temp should lower the
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by ByOhTek (1181381)
          The theory I saw for that is that it needs a sizable moon.

          The tidal forces would get it's liquid core pumping, and help strip the atmosphere.
          • by amorsen (7485)
            The theory I saw for that is that it needs a sizable moon.

            The tidal forces would get it's liquid core pumping, and help strip the atmosphere.

            Hmm, so a planet needs a good-sized moon to be habitable (at least for us). Venus has been hit hard at some point, enough to make it practically stop spinning, and Earth has apparently been hit hard too, enough to create the moon. Odd how two planets both got hit, with one affected a lot but no ejecta, and the other apparently unaffected except for suddenly having a mo
    • by kebes (861706) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @11:43AM (#21518541) Journal

      I would think the first step would be to boost the planet to an orbit further away from the sun.
      Changing the orbit of a planet is not really an option. The energy required to do is ridiculously large. Not to mention the difficulty of actually applying the required forces to a planet (without ruining it). Attach rockets? Launch asteroids into it (and bit by bit change its velocity)? In any case it would be very, very costly, and would require a long, long time.

      But all that is unnecessary anyway, because Venus' orbit is not too far outside the habitable zone [wikipedia.org]. One could, I suppose, eject a large percentage of the Venutian atmosphere in order to reduce atmospheric pressure, temperatures and greenhouse effects (via controlled explosions, perhaps?). To further reduce and control temperatures would require some geo-engineering. For instance, one could place a huge number of thin solar reflectors at the Lagrange point [wikipedia.org] between the planet and the sun. These thin floating mirrors would reflect away some percentage of the sun's rays, thereby casting a "shadow" of sorts on the planet and reducing temperatures. This would of course be ambitious, requiring billions of lightweight reflectors to be placed into the proper orbit, but it's not unthinkable to do it. (Actually, some people are even suggesting it as a potential solution to control Earth's climate.)

      After stabilizing the temperature there would still be many other things to deal with: the atmospheric makeup isn't very hospitable, and it would probably require millenia of active modification to bring it even close to being hospitable to simple forms of life (e.g. extremophiles [wikipedia.org]). Presumably one would engineer these initial life forms so that they would convert the atmosphere as required (especially, to generate oxygen). So, it's probably possible in principle to make Venus habitable... but by no means easy.
      • by E++99 (880734)
        I think we'd better make absolutely certain that it isn't already habited before we decide to make it habitable. Considering that we're still finding life forms in unexpected places in and on the earth, ruling out the presence of life would be at least as big a project as transforming its atmosphere.

      • by sckeener (137243) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @01:04PM (#21519877)
        I think we have time to make Venus habitable....we just need to colonize it first.
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colonization_of_Venus [wikipedia.org]

        Aerostat habitats and floating cities

        Geoffrey A. Landis has summarized the perceived difficulties in colonizing Venus as being merely from the assumption that a colony would need to be based on the surface of a planet:

                "However, viewed in a different way, the problem with Venus is merely that the ground level is too far below the one atmosphere level. At cloud-top level, Venus is the paradise planet."

        He has proposed aerostat habitats followed by floating cities, based on the concept that breathable air (21:79 Oxygen-Nitrogen mixture) is a lifting gas in the dense Venusian atmosphere, with over 60% of the lifting power that helium has on Earth.[4] In effect, a balloon full of human-breathable air would sustain itself and extra weight (such as a colony) in midair. At an altitude of 50 km above Venusian surface, the environment is the most Earthlike in the solar system - a pressure of approximately 1 bar and temperatures in the 0C-50C range. Because there is not a significant pressure difference between the inside and the outside of the breathable-air balloon, any rips or tears would cause gases to diffuse at normal atmospheric mixing rates, giving time to repair any such damages. In addition, humans would not require pressurized suits when outside, merely air to breathe and a protection from the acidic rain. Alternatively two-part domes could contain a lifting gas like hydrogen or helium (extractable from the atmosphere) to allow a higher mass density[5].

        Cloud-top colonization also offers a way to avoid the issue of slow Venusian rotation. At the top of the clouds the wind speed on Venus reaches up to 95 m/s, circling the planet approximately every four Earth days in a phenomenon known as "super-rotation".[6] Colonies floating in this region could therefore have a much shorter day length by remaining untethered to the ground and moving with the atmosphere. While a space elevator extending to the surface of Venus is impractical due to the slow rotation, constructing a skyhook that extended into the upper atmosphere and rotated at the wind speed would be comparably difficult to constructing a space elevator on Earth.

        Since such colonies would be viable in current Venusian conditions, this allows a dynamic approach to colonization in stead of requiring extensive terraforming measures in advance. The main challenge would be using a substance resistant to sulfuric acid to serve as the structure's outer layer; ceramics or metal sulfates could possibly serve in this role. (The sulfuric acid itself may prove to be the main motivation for creating the structure in the first place, as the acid has proven to be extremely useful for many different purposes.)

        Landis has suggested that as more floating cities were built, they could form a solar shield around the planet, and could simultaneously be used to process the atmosphere into a more desirable form. If made from carbon nanotubes (recently fabricated into sheet form) or graphene (a sheet-like carbon allotrope), the major structural materials can be produced using carbon dioxide gathered in situ from the atmosphere. The recently synthesised amorphous carbonia might prove a useful structural material if it can be quenched to STP conditions, perhaps in a mixture with regular silica glass. According to Birch's analysis such colonies and materials would provide an immediate economic return from colonizing Venus, funding further terraforming efforts.
    • I would think the first step would be to boost the planet to an orbit further away from the sun. Speeding up it's orbit would do that, but I wonder if anyone conceived of a method of doing so?

      Give me a large enough nuke, and a place to hide, and I can move the world ...
    • I would think the first step would be to boost the planet to an orbit further away from the sun. Speeding up it's orbit would do that, but I wonder if anyone conceived of a method of doing so?

      Yes. Flyby with an asteroid. You put the asteroid on a path which makes it approach Venus many times in the direction of its orbital motion. Many many repetitions are needed and the path of the asteroid has to be adjusted due to amplified calculation errors due to each approach. Budget for several asteroids. You

    • by kalirion (728907)
      Well, it worked for Killface.
    • You would not want to change the orbit. The solar system is stable now meaningthat the orbit of one inner planet does not effect the orbit of the others (much) but if you were to move Venus outward that would have an effect on Earth's orbit. Possibly een making the system unstable. You would not really want a planey ejected into space away from the Sun or into the sun. In the eraly solar system this kind of thinnk happend, that and major collisions too. What we have left is just the bits that are stable
    • by renrutal (872592)
      Open a large wormhole inside Venus and Mars atmospheres, and let the pressure(Venus' is 10000 times higher than Mars') do the job. This should help stabilize both planets.
  • Missing factor (Score:5, Informative)

    by Punk CPA (1075871) <mitchtownsend@@@hotmail...com> on Thursday November 29, 2007 @11:33AM (#21518405)
    The missing factor is the spin. A Venus day is nearly as long as a Venus year. Earth's relatively rapid spin, acting upon its molten iron core, generates a powerful magnetic field which blocks the effect of the solar wind. We were lucky enough to have been sideswiped early in our planetary history with a large object, with the broken-off bits coalescing into the moon and the planet itself given a rapid spin. So really, it's the absence of spin rather than the presence of carbon dioxide that made the outcomes so different. On the other hand, the moon's tidal effect is acting as a brake on our rotation. Some billions of years from now, the Earth will constantly present the same side to the moon, just as the moon does to us now. Whatever is around at that time will be in big trouble. We can expect the climate alarmists to provide additional spin, but it's probably not going to be enough.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Volante3192 (953645)
      If it takes more than 5 billion years to stop the spin, we'll have more issues with the sun going red giant on us than worrying about spin.

      I'm not worried.
      • It is my experience that the spin will never stop.

        Then again, I'm more familiar with US politics than with planetary body behavior*, so you'll have to take that with a grain of salt.

        *Except my wife. While she has a planetary body, it in no way resembles the classical representations of Venus that I have seen.
    • by archen (447353)
      I don't think our spin has much to do with being sideswiped (but I could be incorrect since I haven't read up on it). The martian day is pretty close to an earth day and there isn't any evidence that mars was hit as the earth may have been. Essentially spin is a byproduct of matter spinning down into a smaller diameter as it collects into a planet or star. Mercury is the exception being small and close to the sun is tidally locked but still has a slow spin due to it's eccentric orbit.

      Venus appears to be t
    • by E++99 (880734)

      Earth will constantly present the same side to the moon, just as the moon does to us now. Whatever is around at that time will be in big trouble. We can expect the climate alarmists to provide additional spin, but it's probably not going to be enough.

      I'm not sure why rotation getting synchronized with the moon's orbit would be such a problem, especially since it will happen very gradually. There will be no tides, which may mean fewer earthquakes (not to mention easier dock, bridge and harbor construction).

      • by CFTM (513264)
        But unfortantely the magnetic field produced by our iron core spinning will be greatly diminished and might not be strong enough to deflect the million mile per hour solar winds that our sun ejects periodically, as such our atmosphere will diminish over time!

        Luckily, we'll probably kill ourselves before we have to worry about this tidal locking nonsense ;)

        Oh and I'm also under the impression that our tides actually make it so a much much larger portion of the earth is not under water as the gravitational af
  • by Samus (1382) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @11:58AM (#21518755) Journal
    4 billion years from now the sun will have swallowed the earth and all the inner planets as it expands into a red giant. A slowing rotation will be the least of our worries. Still I've always thought that Venus would make a better planet for us to live on than Mars if we could change the rotation and overcome the rampant global warming. Its the only planet in the solar system that spins the other way. So whatever hit it early on did a lot bigger number on it than just creating a moon.
    • by Cepper (235111)
      I wonder if anyone has looked into whether it was the same event that caused venus's spin and ours?
    • Actually, no. Though the sun will swell in 4 billion years, perhaps enough the reach Earth's current orbit; the Earth will have an average oribt of 1.7AU by then (caused by the reduced pull of a sun with lower mass) and be well outside the Sun's expansion.
  • Hellish twin ... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Ihlosi (895663) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @11:59AM (#21518777)
    I always wondered why Doom takes place on Mars. Venus would be so much more appropriate.
  • Amazing results! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Lisandro (799651) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @12:00PM (#21518793)
    That probe sure took some stunning artist rendition images!
  • They include evidence of lightning and other results that flesh out a portrait of a planet that is in many ways like ours, and in other ways hellishly different, such as surface temperatures over 400C and air pressure a hundred times that on Earth.

    This almost makes it sound like the tempurature and pressure are news. Various Soviet and US probes have already landed on the surface and measured both the tempurature and pressure.
       
    • by Lisandro (799651)
      This almost makes it sound like the tempurature and pressure are news. Various Soviet and US probes have already landed on the surface and measured both the tempurature and pressure.

      Amen to that. Russia sent a number of probes [wikipedia.org] to Venus, and managed to take orbital and surface pictures of it. In color. Circa 1975.

      I'm always amazed when i read about the Venera program. The soviets did some incredible advances in the aerospace field back then.
      • by david.given (6740)

        I'm always amazed when i read about the Venera program. The soviets did some incredible advances in the aerospace field back then.

        The Soviet space achievement that I'm amazed nobody's ever heard of is the Lunokhod [wikipedia.org] programme. Two robotic rovers, landing on the moon, around 1970. They were remote-controlled from earth, driven manually via a TV link. Lunokhod 1 lasted for just under a year and travelled about 10km, Lunokhod 2 for four months but managed 35km.

        After they died, they were sold off to private i

      • by Tablizer (95088)
        I'm always amazed when i read about the Venera program. The soviets did some incredible advances in the aerospace field back then.

        Indeed. They got yet another first on that: "First image sent from surface of another planet (Venus)". They beat US Viking (Mars) by one year.

        However, it should be noted that the Soviets had horrible luck with Mars with lots of tries. They found that landing on Venus was easier because the atmosphere is so thick that Venus landers barely need parachutes after a certain depth: t
    • Lightning is surprising because the "clouds" on venus are more accurately just blankets of Co2. We'd call that smog.

      It would certainly be newsworthy if our Earthly smog suddenly began producing an electric charge.
      • by Torn8-R (1190051)
        Scientists (at least those mentioned on the Science Channel) have theorized because the atmosphere on Venus is so dense, it cannot build up enough of a charge to have a cloud to ground discharge. So all of the renderings of the cloud to ground lightning would be incorrect. Also, don't forget that when talking about the CO2 in the air, you must remember sulfuric gas coming from the volcanic surface. Nothing like a little sulfuric acid rain to ruin your day!
      • Cassini didn't find any high-frequency noise and the results were published with lots of headlines along the lines "Ashen light just an optical illusion". Wonder how this new evidence ties in?
    • Yeah, I'm getting a real kick out of this 40-year-old "news". Still, I imagine it _is_ news to most people.

  • The current Federal Administration is aware of this difference, and has a plan to bring the surface temperatures of Earth and Venus more closely into alignment.
  • Whaatt? There's air on Venus?
  • ... realizing that Venus Express probe has mistakenly been monitoring downtown Tehran.
  • by Russ Nelson (33911) <slashdot@russnelson.com> on Friday November 30, 2007 @12:17AM (#21528331) Homepage
    I'm sure that the beings living on Venus are sure that life cannot exist on the frozen vacuum that is Earth.

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