Major research labs are now engaged in finding alternate planets where life is possible. Mars is the next sought after planet suitable for life, agree almost every scientist working on the same. BBC Future, unlike others, is looking at Venus as also capable of sustaining life.
The researchers who believe that life on Venus is possible, claim that the environment on Venus resembles the environment on Earth to a large extent. The gravitational force present on Venus is almost 90% of what is on Earth. Moreover, it is only about 30% closer to the Sun than Earth is.
However, there are many factors on which the kind of environment that supports life on Earth is different from that of Venus. The atmosphere on Venus is around 90 times thicker than Earth’s, which constitutes carbon dioxide (CO2) in large quantities. It is further trapped in clouds of pure sulphuric acid. While Mars has too little of an atmosphere.
The Venus’s CO2 atmosphere can trap enormous amount of the Sun’s heat, creating a really hot environment on the surface. The surface temperature can be over 450C (842F) and can melt lead, zinc, and most organic material. Therefore it next to impossible to stay on the surface of Venus.
Scientists have asserted that the only solution is to avoid the surface and look for other areas to live on Venus. Geoffrey Landis exclaimed, “The problem with Venus is that the surface is too far below the one-Earth-atmosphere [of air pressure] level.” Geoffrey Landis is a NASA scientist and science fiction writer who was among the first to propose the idea. Further stated, “The atmosphere of Venus is the most Earth-like environment in the Solar System (other than the Earth).”
The Venus atmosphere is hospitable to human beings at around 50 kilometers (30 miles) above the surface. The air pressure seems to be right at that level, resembling that of Earth’s. The thick atmosphere helps in shielding oneself from harmful radiations from the Sun.
CO2 on Earth is heavier than air, while CO2 is present in the top atmosphere in Venus. Thereby, nitrogen and oxygen are much lighter than Venusian air. A balloon then filled with air from Earth floats high in Venus like a Helium balloon.
Landis added, “A one-kilometre diameter spherical [balloon] will lift 700,000 tons – two Empire State Buildings. A two-kilometre diameter [balloon] would lift six million tons.” “The result would be an environment as spacious as a typical city.”
The task now is to come up with a material that is strong enough to withhold huge weight and at the same time be unaffected by the atmosphere present in Venus.
The Soviet Vega mission flew by Venus in 1985, on its way to intercept Halley’s Comet. Landis shared, “[Vega] put two balloons into the atmosphere of Venus that floated in the atmosphere right at the levels we’re talking about, for two days.” “The outermost layer of the balloons was simply Teflon. Teflon is completely robust against sulfuric acid.”
Besides the material to make the balloons, necessary material to support human habitations is the issue for consideration. Landis stated that Venus is the most under researched planet in relation to other planets and hence very little is known about the conditions that prevail there. Hence it is hard to make predictions with regard to raw materials needed for humans to live.