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10 Weird Features of Planet Venus

Science & Technology

10 Weird Features of Planet Venus

One of the strange objects in our solar system is also one that gets very little attention in comparison to planets like Mars. In reality, however, Venus stands as a planet entirely unparalleled in the solar system and harbours some of the solar system’s oddest natural features. So here are ten strange aspects of Planet Venus.

10. It Snows Metal

When radar images of the surface of Venus were taken, it was noticed that certain high elevation areas on Venus were highly reflective. Initially, the reason for this was unknown, and explanations such as loose soil and weathering differences were advanced, but none fit very well.

It was later found that Venus may contain minerals that evaporate in the intense heat of the lowlands, and then precipitate out at colder, higher altitudes in the form of lead and bismuth sulfides. This happens at elevations higher than 2600 meters in a process that can be compared to earth snow, but only superficially. The two are in reality radically different.

9. It’s a Planet Gone Horribly Wrong

It was later found that Venus may contain minerals that evaporate in the intense heat of the lowlands, and then precipitate out at cooler, higher altitudes in the form of lead and bismuth sulfides. This happens at altitudes higher than 2600 meters in a process that can be compared to earth snow, but only superficially. The two are in reality radically different.

It has been said that Venus is, in many ways, Earth’s twin. It’s Evil Twin. Venus was once very Earth-like and may have even had oceans of liquid water for a time billions of years ago. But then something happened, and Venus transformed itself into the vision of hell that it is today. But what? It’s thought that Venus is an example of a runaway greenhouse effect. As the young sun increased in luminosity, which it’s still doing today and will eventually bake earth, it’s thought that the Venusian oceans began to evaporate.

Water vapor is an insulating greenhouse gas and would have warmed that planet’s atmosphere further. Eventually, the oceans boiled away thoroughly. But today Venus has comparatively little water vapor, so where did it go? In short, it’s thought to have escaped into space. One clue for this is another odd aspect of Venus. It has a very high ratio of deuterium to hydrogen in its atmosphere. It’s 150 times greater than that of the earth. It could be that Venus water vapor made it high enough in the atmosphere to be broken down by solar radiation. The resulting oxygen would recombine, providing some of Venus’s current carbon dioxide atmosphere, which is also a greenhouse gas.

But the hydrogen would escape, being too light for Venus to hold onto. But the isotope deuterium is heavier, and would generally be more easily retained, resulting in the higher concentrations in the atmosphere over time. It’s mostly the leftovers of the ocean. The end result is the Venus we have today, with searing hot surface temperatures, extreme atmospheric pressure, and a runaway greenhouse effect on a world that at one time seems have been Earth-like. But that’s not the end of the story for Venus. In the far future, it’s an attractive candidate for terraforming and may someday end up as the true twin of earth, and like earth, inhabited by humans.

8. Venus Has Astonishingly High Wind Speeds

Venus’ upper atmosphere in some ways behaves like earth. For instance, wind speeds in the upper atmosphere are comparable to earth’s jet stream, which can exceed speeds of 100 miles per hour. Generally, wind speeds deeper within earth’s atmosphere are slower, except under certain weather conditions, such as a tornado. Venus, however, has a very different lower atmosphere, and much, much higher wind speeds. Lower in Venus’ atmosphere, wind speeds can reach past 700 kilometers per hour or four hundred miles per hour. This is far faster than any wind speed ever recorded on earth. But as you move even deeper into the atmosphere, near the surface, the extremely high atmospheric pressure drops wind speeds to almost nothing and behaves a bit more like liquid flowing than gas moving. But, at pressures that great, even moderate winds can move rocks. And, there’s also a mystery involved with Venus’ winds. Based on cloud top observations, Venus’s wind speeds appear to be increasing over time, suggesting a cycle of some sort. It’s unclear what’s causing that.

7. The Entire Planet has Recently Been Resurfaced

One noteworthy thing about Venus’s surface is that has very little cratering when compared to other objects in the solar system. This suggests that its surface is young, having recently been resurfaced an estimated 300 to 500 million years ago. Earth resurfaces itself as well, but in our case, in addition to weathering, we also have plate tectonics that returns material from the crust to the mantle and vice versa. Venus does not appear to have active plate tectonics.

This opens up a very apocalyptic possibility. That as radioactive materials in Venus’ core decay, they produce heat, but that heat becomes trapped causing the mantle of the planet to heat up until eventually mantle material is so hot it forces itself up through the crust causing a planet-wide lava flow. In short, Venus may periodically crack open and resurface itself.

6. From the Perspective of Earth, Venus does Strange Things

Being among the brightest objects in the sky, Venus has been watched in the night sky by humans for many thousands of years, probably the entirety of our existence on this planet in fact. But also, due to that brightness, Venus can often be observed in the day through a telescope if you know where to look. But, historically, occasionally, somehow, it seems to have been fully visible to the naked eye in daylight.

In 1716, Edmund Halley calculated its brightness when residents of the city of London became alarmed over a daylight apparition of Venus. Other times this seems to have happened was during the 1865 second inauguration of Abraham Lincoln. More, Napoleon Bonaparte likewise witnessed a daylight apparition of Venus while in Luxembourg. In the past, these daylight apparitions were looked at superstitiously, but in reality, Venus can become naked eye visible from earth if the planet is positioned well and seeing conditions in the sky are good. But that’s not the only oddity involved with Venus’ as we see it from earth.

Telescope observations of Venus also hold a mystery known as the ashen light. Over the centuries there have been reports of a glow on the unilluminated side of Venus, which like the moon goes through phases. No one really knows what causes it, or if it really exists. It could be an illusion, where when observing a small but very bright crescent, it is perceived by the brain to be a complete circle. Others have suggested that it may be due to lightning in the Venusian atmosphere, some kind of auroral activity, and even upper atmosphere chemistry. Yet, we’ve sent spacecraft to Venus, and none of them has detected this light. On the other hand, reports of it are really persistent, stretching back to 1643 with many credible astronomers witnessing it, even to the present day.

5. Venus May or May Not Have a Solid Core

One striking feature of Venus is that it has little or no magnetic field of its own. Instead, it effectively borrows the magnetic field it does have from the solar wind, leading to a comet-like magnetic tail quite unlike earth, which internally produces its magnetic field through convection of liquid in the core. Earth-Like convection deep inside Venus does not appear to be occurring leading to the possibility that Venus has a solid base. But if it’s so similar to earth in composition and size, why wouldn’t it be liquid?

Another possibility is that it’s just too hot for convection to occur, bolstering the idea that Venus traps heat, and only occasionally releases it when it cracks open and resurfaces itself, in which case it has a molten core, but one very different from earth.

4. Venus Rotates Very Slowly …and Backwards

One of the strangest aspects of Venus and one of the hardest to explain is the fact that the planet rotates backwards concerning the rest of the worlds of the solar system. It also turns very slowly, it’s day is 243 earth days long, which is actually longer than its year. While it might seem intuitive to suspect some past cataclysm is the reason for this, such as some kind of impact, that doesn’t appear to be the case. It may be that Venus directly formed a little bit differently within the solar nebula than the other planets and that some mix of tidal effects from the sun’s gravitation on Venus’ thick atmosphere and chaotic spin changes through planetary perturbations affected how it rotates today.

More, it’s unclear what the effects on the planet are with that thick atmosphere and very high winds. But Venus may not be without its cataclysms. If researches at the California Institute of Technology are right, Venus may have once had a moon created in a similar way to how Earth’s moon is thought to have been formed. A large object crashed into protovenus and knocked the material off that would coalesce into a moon. But, here’s the kicker, about ten million years later another impact reversed Venus’ spin direction. This would have caused the moon to spiral inward and impact Venus. Alternatively, the intense solar tidal effects might have destabilised the moon, explaining why Venus is oddly moonless for a planet in our solar system.

3. Venus May Have Lightning … But it Shouldn’t

When it was first suggested decades ago that Venus might have lightning, it sparked a controversy within the scientific community in that it really shouldn’t have electricity. Venus lacks the type of clouds that generally produce lightning, and also requires the vertical atmospheric convection that is a significant factor in the generation of earth’s electricity. Yet persistent measurements with exploratory spacecraft have seemingly unambiguously detected lightning on Venus and seem to be about as common there as it is here on earth. What mechanism creates the electricity remains uncertain.

2. If the Wrong Things Happen Venus May Someday Collide With Earth

The further one tries to project how the future of the solar system will play out, the more uncertain it is. Modelling of this often produces varying results. But what is certain is that it will change and the current arrangement of the planets will undergo changes and some scenarios can be a bit disturbing, if unlikely. One possibility is that the planet Mercury could see its orbit become even more elongated than it already is, causing gravitational interactions with the rest of the solar system that could eject it entirely from the solar system, or put it on a collision course with Venus. Still, other possibilities include a small chance of Earth getting removed from the solar system or even a collision where Mars passes very close to earth, disturbing Venus and Earth and putting them on a collision course.

But, never fear, these are among the least likely scenarios for the future solar system. What is certain however is that nothing will stop the evolution and ageing of the sun and earth is most definitely in long term danger there. But, Planetary migration is something that can be managed over very long periods. Yes, it’s possible to move planets, links to a collaboration I did with Fraser Cain on that very subject in the description below. And in the far future, if we’re still around, we may be able to avert these collisions by shepherding the planets using the gravitational influence of asteroids in deliberately altered orbits over very long periods.

1. Venus May Have Life

At first glance, with all of the heat and pressure, Venus would not seem to be a possible abode for life, at least as we know. But in fact, it is a candidate and may be showing signs that some kind of biological activity is occurring there. The key to this is the upper atmosphere of Venus, where temperatures and pressure drop to a situation similar to the surface of Earth. In fact, this level of Venus’ atmosphere is among the most Earth-like places in the solar system. Given that Venus once may have had liquid water, it’s possible that microbial life arose there and as the planet slowly transformed into what it is today that adapted to the changing conditions and may still be present in the upper atmosphere. And, we may be seeing clues of this. The first of these is the chemical carbonyl sulfide. This chemical is challenging to produce inorganically, though it can be created through volcanism.

Another odd one is what is known as S8 molecules, which are impervious to the effects of sulfuric acid. If the microbes had incorporated these molecules into their makeup, they too might be insensitive to the corrosive effects of the sulfuric acid in Venus’ atmosphere. S8 molecules are known to exist in Venus’ atmosphere. More, the Venera missions detected unexplained elongated particulate matter in Venus’ lower cloud layer that was about the size of a bacterium. But perhaps the most tantalising hint are dark streaks that appear in Venus’ cloud layers that appear to be absorbing UV light, and it’s not clear why. But if those streaks are related to life, then UV could be its energy source. Hopefully, we won’t have long to wait for an answer, ROSCOSMOS is planning a mission, Venera D, if sent, may carry equipment to try to detect that life.

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