Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Blinding You with Science: Venus Envy

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This week's episode of The Universe was about the two planets closest to the sun: Mercury and Venus.

Picture this: You're standing on hardened lava in extremely dense, 900 degree toxic air. Above you, 50,000 degree lightening bolts discharge horizontally from sulfur cloud to sulfur cloud. Because the clouds are so thick, daylight is dim -- and because the planet's rotation is so slow, it will take eight (Earth) months for the day to end.

Yeah, that's what Venus is like.

But the most shocking factoid about Venus is that billions of years ago (scientists believe), it had oceans -- just like Earth!

But it also had a ton of volcanoes. And the volcanoes released so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that clouds formed, trapping heat and raising temperatures until the oceans evaporated.

Sound familiar? Yeah, that's the greenhouse effect -- in fact, we didn't know about the green house effect until we studied Venus.

So, consider this: If Venus had oceans until the carbon dioxide trapped heat and caused them to evaporate, is it possible that, if we humans somehow release as much CO2 as the volcanoes on Venus, our planet will meet a similar fate and become Venusian?

Or, what if it wasn't the volcanoes that dumped so much CO2 on Venus -- what if it was an earlier civilization of Earth-like humans? (Remember, Venus used to have oceans and a climate much like today's Earth . . .)

I'm not attesting to the likelihood of this theory . . . but it is interesting to think about.

Everytime I watch one of these shows, I think of how small and insignificant and arbitrary our lives are in the scheme of things (and by things I mean time and space).

Then I think, well, if we're so small and arbitrary and insignificant, then what makes us think we actually have the capacity to understand all this? Maybe science is just a bunch of BS.

But if science was just a bunch of BS, then we wouldn't have been able to use it to develop space travel, medicine, plastic, etc. etc.

So science works, is all I'm saying.

(And Creationism is stupid.)

(And Global Warming is real!)

What if Venus was a parallel Earth? A parallel Earth where humans existed and made great things with coal and oil and chemicals -- but the history of these humans was different than ours in that their attempts to regulate pollution with environmental regulations similar to those we put into effect in the 19th century and early 20th century here were defeated by religious zealots?

I want to see that movie.


Zachary Knoles said...

What about the idea that as the sun ages and becomes cooler, the temperature of Venus might decrease as well, leading the planet to become more temperate and Earth-like, just in time for bacteria to travel there, riding on busted fragments of our planet (as they might have from Mars to Earth, when Earth was too hot and Mars was just right), blasted into space from an asteroid collision?

We'll be long extinct of course, but perhaps future species will theorize that Earth would be Venus-like, if only it weren't so cold...

BTW, I SEE YOU HAVE A BLOG! Consider me a fan.

Mel said...

I like that idea . . . except that as the sun ages and cools the core will contract and its outer layers will expand and consume the first four planets of the Solar System so, yeah, we'll all be screwed.

And, Yay!, I'm glad you like the blog. Thanks for reading!