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Venus became a hellscape due to climate change. Is Earth next in line?

Venus became a hellscape due to climate change. Is Earth next in line?

Climate change turned Venus into a hellscape. Is Earth next?

“Hellscape” is the most appropriate word to describe the surface of Venus, the second planet from the sun. At 900 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s the hottest planet in the solar system, thanks to an atmosphere that’s almost entirely made up of carbon dioxide. Over a volcanic landscape of sharp lava flows, clouds made of highly corrosive sulfuric acids are draped. Most crushingly, the pressure on the surface of Venus is about 92 times the pressure you’d feel at sea level on Earth.

“It’s really almost entertainingly, comically horrible, like some sort of cosmic deity had a really, really grumpy day and just went ‘Nope, I’m gonna ruin this planet,’” Robin George AndrewsAndrews, a scientist journalist and volcanologist, said. Andrews likens it to being a mile under pressure. “If you stood on the surface, you would be pancaked and you would melt,” he says. Your eyes would explode due to the pressure — “which would be gross,” he adds.

Andrews explains this in his new book. Super Volcanoes: What They Reveal about Earth and the Worlds BeyondScientists believe that Venus was once a planet much like Earth. It had a liquid water ocean similar to the ones that sustain life on Earth. Andrews finds the question of what happened that destroyed Venus fascinating and even existential.

“Venus and Earth are planetary siblings,” he says. “They were made at the same time and made of the same stuff, yet Venus is apocalyptic and awful in every possible way. Earth is a paradise. So why do we have a paradise next to a paradise lost?”

Scientists have discovered this. SomethingThe impact of Venus on climate change caused a truly devastating level of climate change. Surface temperatures rose hundreds of degrees. But they don’t know exactly what. Andrews was the host of an episode. Unexplainable, Vox’s science podcast about unanswered questions, about what could have triggered Venus’s apocalypse and why we should care about it. This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

The podcast episode features a conversation with Sara Seager (MIT planetary scientist, expert on exoplanets or planets beyond our solar system). who raises the tantalizing question: What if Venus, despite all the destruction, is still alive?

Our place in the universe could be revealed by Venus’s origins

On the left is Venus as it looks today. On the right, an artist’s interpretation of where oceans could have lain on the surface in the past.
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory Caltech (left) & NASA (right).

Brian Resnick

You say the question of “what killed Venus” is existential. Why is it so?

Robin George Andrews

It is really a question about “Why are we here?” Answering it will help answer the question: Are we lonely? Are there other Venuses and Earths out there, or are they all alone?

How fortunate are we to exist if Earth is the only one left? If Venus is the odd one out, then maybe we’re not so special after all.

Brian Resnick

So Earth and Venus began as similar planets and then took different paths. Do you want to know which path is more common in the cosmos.

Robin George Andrews

Scientists have found an Earth-like exoplanet. It’s almost like they are saying, “We found a Venus-like planet.” We don’t know if this is like a habitable world by our human, surface-dwelling standards, or if it’s gone through this sort of apocalyptic climate change like Venus. Studying Earth and Venus is a good way to find out which planets are more common in our cosmos.

Brian Resnick

How did scientists discover that Venus was habitable and more pleasant than they suspect?

Robin George Andrews

So, even though Venus today appears and is apocalyptic according to every definition of the word, probes have looked into its atmosphere. found there’s a lot of “heavy water” in the atmosphere. Heavy water sounds exactly like it does. The water we’re used to, this classic H2O, which is found commonly everywhere on Earth, is a more common type of water throughout the cosmos. Heavy water switches out hydrogen for deuterium, which is a heavier version.

Brian Resnick

What does it mean to find heavy water?

Robin George Andrews

You can estimate how much of the planet’s heavy water is there by measuring how much. It suggests that there once was a lot of classic water on Venus, at least an ocean’s worth of water on Venus. What are the chances that Venus was habitable if that water existed in liquid form? It’s not unlikely, even though today it looks impossible.

Brian Resnick

How long ago must this be, Venus habitable?

Robin George Andrews

There is a possibility that water was steam at one time, but it may not have been liquid water. If it was, it could have been habitable for billions upon billions of years. Perhaps right up to the last billion years.

Brian Resnick

So that’s what we’re talking about when we say Venus used to be “alive.” What do we mean by “killed”?

Robin George Andrews

In this instance, runaway climate change is the cause of death. Climate change is a global catastrophe that is irreversible. The planet’s average temperature jumped by around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. It was almost like it had cooked itself to death.

Suspect No. 1 for the death Venus: The sun

Plasma is seen exploding from the sun’s surface.
NASA/Solar Dynamics Observatory

Brian Resnick

I think the question is how Venus cooked itself.

Robin George Andrews

There’s kind of two leading theories as to what killed Venus. Option No. Option No. 1 is the Sun. From what we know of our sun and other stars, when they’re kind of in their teenage years, they get hyper-excitable, and they get hotter and brighter quite quickly. If the sun really gets brighter, it will get hotter. TooEven if you have water on the surface, the sun can quickly boil it off. That is what many exoplanets, planets beyond our galaxy, are thought to have experienced.

Brian Resnick

And once Venus’s water gets vaporized…

Robin George Andrews

The steam is a greenhousegas that would have increased the greenhouse effect. And then the carbon dioxide coming out of Venus’s embryonic volcanoes would have just sealed the deal. This could explain why Venus looks the way it does today.

Brian Resnick

If Venus were to have been killed by the young, exuberant sun, would it have been okay?

Robin George Andrews

Yes, Earth would have been fine. It seems that Earth was spared from the worst.

Suspect No. 2 for Venus’ death: Tectonic plate-breaking volcanic eruptions

An artist’s depiction of a volcanically active Venus.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Peter Rubin

Brian Resnick

So that’s one suspect in our whodunit. What about the second suspect?

Robin George Andrews

My favorite thing is volcanoes.

Brian Resnick

How could your favorite volcanoes kill a planet?!

Robin George Andrews

Earth’s worst mass extinction was two hundred fifty-two million year ago. Great Dying. At least 90% of all life was destroyed, and the main suspects were the volcanic fissures in Siberia. It caused a flood of lava the size of a continent, which took 2 million years to erupt.

It causes huge explosions and releases all the greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, which creates a global warming effect and raises the temperature. by a dozen degrees [Celsius]. This caused 90% of all life on Earth to end. Earth had to sort of reset itself. The idea is, what if it happened on Venus but worse?

Brian Resnick

It could even kill the planet.

Robin George Andrews

You only need one [Great Dying-scale]It might be okay because Venus had platetectonics. Plate tectonics is the essence of plate tectonics. a planet’s thermostat.

Brian Resnick

Plate tectonics — that’s how continents kind of float around and smoosh into each other. How does this work like a thermostat for the continents?

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Robin George Andrews

Carbon dioxide can be absorbed into the ocean and that carbon dioxide filters down to these tectonic plate. If tectonic plates dive down beneath each other, then you’re burying carbon [and slowing the greenhouse effect].

Brian Resnick

Okay, but how do we break this carbon-burying system.

Robin George Andrews

You have two of these epicSeveral Great Dying-like Eruptions at the same Time

This will immediately set off a severe period of global heating. And the oceans will only begin to boil off.

Plate tectonics could actually bury carbon for a time. But if you boil your oceans, carbon dioxide will not dissolve in them. If you get rid of the water, plate tectonics will shut down. If you dehydrate [tectonic plates], you make them brittle — they can’t bury the carbon anymore. That’s essentially game over. If you break plate tectonics you’ve broken the world.

The scientific jury is still out

Venus’s clouds captured in infared.
JAXA/ISAS/DARTS/Damia Bouic

Brian Resnick

We have two suspects. We have Venus breaking down, and the sun. Which sentence should we use?

Robin George Andrews

The volcanoes seem more likely because we can see how that’s happened on Earth — just to a slightly lesser extent. But if this was put into a court of law, they would both be presumed not guilty, just because there isn’t a telltale bit of evidence yet.

Brian Resnick

How can we solve this mystery?

Robin George Andrews

There’s basically a fleet of missions that is going to unravel the geologic makeup of Venus today. If it looks bone-dry and it was always bone-dry, then maybe the sun did it, because it’s been dehydrated for a long time.

But if it looks like there’s still some dehydration going on, that means you still have water somewhere. If Venus was still kind of soggy on the inside, and it’s still kind of belching water out, the volcanoes probably killed Venus.

Brian Resnick

Could the Earth pull a Venus one Day?

Robin George Andrews

[Laughs.]It could. Let’s not panic — I mean, these sorts of eruptions are like millions of years in timescales. So it’s not like no one would see this coming and we’d instantly be doomed. But it could happen. The question is: Does it seem normal for a planet just to have one? OneAre you one of these game-changing, truly epic eruptions at once? Or is it a fluke?

I find it strangely perversely fascinating that no one knows the answer. We don’t know how often it is that volcanoes decide to trash the planets they’re on.

Brian Resnick

Sometimes, people bring up Venus when discussing climate change. It’s an example of how bad a planet can become when greenhouse gases start to accumulate in an atmosphere. Could humans possibly be the volcano?

Robin George Andrews

The pace at which we’re putting carbon dioxide into the sky is worse than what was happening during the Great Dying, in terms of the amount of carbon per year.

Brian Resnick

However, we would need to continue this for millions of more years.

Robin George Andrews

Right.

Brian Resnick

It is strangely comforting to know that humans are unlikely not to completely destroy the Earth.

Robin George Andrews

Yeah. I think it would be terrible to pay homage what happened to Venus.



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