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Animation of the solar wind interacting with the atmosphere of Venus. Credit: ESA/C. Carreau


Venus: Flame Broiled Pressure Cooker
Jul 29, 2009

How long has there been hell on Venus?

Early in the morning of November 9, 2005, the European Space Agency (ESA) launched the Venus Express orbiter on a mission to map the cloud-shrouded planet. On April 11, 2006, the spacecraft entered orbit around Venus, began transmitting data, and has been doing so since.

ESA's mission was prompted by the many unanswered questions about Venus:

1. What force drives the atmospheric movement?

2. How does the atmosphere circulate?

3. What are the clouds in the lower atmosphere made of?

4. Was there ever any water in the atmosphere?

5. Does internal radiation influence the planet?

6. Is there volcanic or tectonic activity?

Space probes have been investigating Venus since 1962, with 23 missions to date. However, the vast majority of those missions failed to achieve their objectives. Most either disintegrated while attempting to land on the surface or simply did not return data after orbital insertion.

Venus Express was one of the good ones, and has accumulated more than three years of observations, primarily the face of the cloud tops lit by the Sun's intense ultraviolet light, but radar instruments have also produced images that reveal chaotic surface features. A new topographical map of the south polar region was released to the press just recently, combining more than 1000 individual images.

Many of the structures seen on Venus have no analogues to anything found on Earth, such as the gigantic domes, the so-called "arachnoids," and "coronae." There are places that do look like Earth in some ways, though—broad, flat-topped landforms bordered with steep drop-offs resemble the continental shelves and ocean basins found on our planet. On Venus, of course, there is no water in the basins and the highland regions are red hot and barren.

The atmosphere of Venus also contains corrosive hydrochloric and hydrofluoric acids in small amounts, along with hydrogen chloride and hydrogen fluoride. If those chemical reagents react with the sulfuric acid that is also present, then hydrofluoric and fluorosulphuric acids will form, which are able to dissolve almost any type of rock.

According to conventional thinking about the cosmogony of the Solar System, Venus condensed out of the same primordial cloud as the rest of the planets billions of years ago. How long it has possessed its current atmosphere is open to question, but that it has been as it is for at least 300 million years is agreed to for the most part. That means the surface of Venus has been subjected to an onslaught of chemical erosion for hundreds of millions of years.

After all those millions of years, it is expected that layers of sand or dirt from the weathered basaltic surface would have piled up in various locations around the planet, particularly inside craters, or in the lowlands against the sides of canyon or cliff walls. There appears to be no sign of any significant erosion, however. As the Russian Venera landing craft discovered, the surface of Venus is nothing but bare rock, with a little debris inside the cracks. This is a significant anomaly for which no one has offered a theory: how can Venus be both old and young? If its entire surface has been renovated in the last 300 million years, what caused that to happen?

A surprising observation by the Venus Express orbiting radar package is a confirmation that the tallest mountain peaks exhibit high radar reflectivity. The interpretation given by mission specialists is that the highest elevations are coated with a semiconducting material. It is not known what particular mineral it might be, but it could be pyrite or magnetite.

According to Electric Universe theorist Wal Thornhill, the increased radar reflectivity is because the highest elevations on Venus are shining with St. Elmo's Fire, a plasma phenomenon. It is well understood that plasma is an excellent reflector of electromagnetic radiation, such as radar. The greater the current density in the plasma, the greater the reflectivity.

Venus (or, at least its surface) is evidently young and still retains the characteristics it once had as a comet, visible to our forebears. As Wal Thornhill wrote:

"Venus, with its cometary tail, is evidently still discharging strongly today after a recent cometary past noted globally by ancient witnesses. Venus was described variously as a ‘hairy star’ or ‘bearded star’ and a stupendous prodigy in the sky. Today, Venus’ comet tail operates in the dark discharge mode and is invisible. It can only be detected by magnetometers and charged particle detectors."

Stephen Smith




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