Venus is often called earth’s ‘sister planet;’ and sometimes its ‘twisted sister.’ They are relatively the same size; but that’s where the similarity ends. Temperatures on Venus reach a level hot enough to melt lead. It might surprise you to know that more than 40 spacecraft have been launched toward Venus since 1960 by NASA, the European Space Agency, (ESA), and the Soviet Union.
In the 1990’s NASA used radar to map approximately 90 percent of the planet. The surface cannot be seen because of Venus’ thick gaseous cloud cover. In 2005 the ESA launched a vehicle to study the planet’s atmosphere.
NASA’s radar revealed that about two-thirds of the planet is a flat plain. There are also craters, mountains, and thousands of volcanoes, some larger than those on earth, whose lava has created numerous canals and a deformed surface. The surface of the planet is very unpleasant; its dryness is the result of runaway greenhouse gas, and the temperatures at surface level reach 870 degrees Fahrenheit. Wind velocity exceeds 240 mph.
Although the surface is inhospitable for human life, scientists theorize the possibility of some type of life existing in the clouds. About 30 to 40 miles above the surface, conditions are more ‘earth-like.’ Temperatures and pressure gradients are similar to earth, and there are minute traces of water vapor and oxygen. Scientists speculate that the possibility of a form of life is plausible. Part of it is based on the fact that bacteria survive in the clouds surrounding our planet. It is believed that these bacteria actually assist in cloud formation in earth’s warmer climates.
Other unusual situations are found in the clouds. Chemicals which do not appear in the same environment are present, suggesting that they are created by something else.
Finally, there are three particles in the clouds which scientists could not identify. But they do know that they contain vast amounts of sulfuric acid, and may signify a form of bacterium resides within the clouds.
By James Turnage
Photo Courtesy of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center