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ESA to Send Spacecraft to Venus 195

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the just-being-neighborly dept.
teeto writes to tell us The International Herald Tribune is reporting that the European Space Agency is planning to send a spacecraft to peer at Venus." From the article: "If the robot craft pulls off the complex maneuver of slowing down enough to swing into orbit, scientists hope it will help solve the mystery of how the shrouded, churning atmosphere of Venus formed and how it maintains the planet's broiler-like temperatures."
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ESA to Send Spacecraft to Venus

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 09, 2006 @09:35PM (#15097029)
    Venus once had a thriving civilization, much like Earth, but they burned their fossil fuels and ruined their environment. DON'T BE LIKE VENUS!
    • by Woldry (928749) on Sunday April 09, 2006 @09:53PM (#15097104) Journal
      This AC comment seems to have been made in jest, but it got me thinking.

      Do we have any way of knowing how long Venus has been a runaway greenhouse? (That phrase, by the way, invokes a really bizarre mental image ... )

      Is it conceivable that the climate there went haywire within human history? Given the current pressure, temperature, and chemical composition of the atmosphere on Venus, is there any chance that any indications at all could have survived of a possible former ecosystem there?

      Mars is fascinating for what it might have become. Venus is fascinating for what it might have been.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        Keep in mind that Venus averages a solar irradiance almost twice that of earth. Any water that would've existed in the planet would have boiled off to the upper atmosphere with the hydrogen getting carried off by the solar wind.
      • I read somewhere that Venus and Earth may have had similiar chemistries when both planets were created.

        I know Earth had an atmosphere of Amomnia when it was first created. Perhaps Venus had this and the extreme had broke down the Amonia and combined the elements with sulfur and carbon dioxide to form its hellish atmoshpere?

        I wonder if Earth will turn into another Venus when teh sun expands and begins to warm our planet up?
      • Wouldn't it be wild if we'd come to earth hundreds of thousands of years ago from Venus, seeded only by "Adam and Eve" who were a bit like breeding Superman(s), while the Venusian civilization died, and the one on Earth began to rebuild from scratch?
        • by DreadfulGrape (398188) on Sunday April 09, 2006 @11:11PM (#15097263)
          Wouldn't it be wild if we'd come to earth hundreds of thousands of years ago from Venus, seeded only by "Adam and Eve" who were a bit like breeding Superman(s), while the Venusian civilization died, and the one on Earth began to rebuild from scratch?

          Wild, dude. BTW, pass that bong to me when you're done with it....
          • /me tokes.

            Wilder yet, what if there's been civilizations before our current one? Homosapiens is estimated to be what, up to 300k years old and the oldest sigs we have of civilizations past are piles or rubble that was a city 8k years ago. Say there was a huge, thriving civilization 50k years ago? There would be nothing left of it by now. Who knows what wonders could lie in our distant past?

            /me tokes again and passes.
        • It'd be rather disturbing actually. Think of how much better we could have been without hundreds of thousands of years of incest.
      • Do we have any way of knowing how long Venus has been a runaway greenhouse? (That phrase, by the way, invokes a really bizarre mental image ... )

        Almost from the get go. From what I've read, Venus has simply way, way too much Carbon Dioxide. Carl Sagan's romantic plan of seeding Venus with bacteria to eat up the CO2 simply fails because there is way too much CO2. To get Venus straightened out for human habitation, you would have flat out get rid of something like 89 parts out of 90 in the Venutian atmosphere, and there's really no place to put that much air. There've been some proposals to freeze it into giant CO2 chunks and launch them into space, or, slam some kind of an asteroid or even planet into Venus to jack the air into space, but both are so far beyond our technology as to be unimaginable. There's also not enough of other gasses in Venus's atmosphere - you really need a lot of nitrogen or something like it, like, well, the Earth has.

        Then again, the Earth has an aweful of lot of Carbon Dioxide in the oceans and the limestone.... maybe we could all be doomed.

        Is it conceivable that the climate there went haywire within human history? Given the current pressure, temperature, and chemical composition of the atmosphere on Venus, is there any chance that any indications at all could have survived of a possible former ecosystem there?

        Well, there's one famous Internet crackpot that swears he sees Zeppelins on Venus and there are people there...and NASA is covering it up. But, outside of that, I think Venus has always been dead. Venus has a lot of problems even besides the grueling atmosphere. It has a long rotational period and lacks a magnetosphere.

        As far as the earth goes, the most spectacular environment catastrophe posited is Snowball Earth [wikipedia.org]. Basically, the entire Earth was frozen over with a sheet of ice two miles thick, everything died and there was no oxygen in the atmosphere, for a period of a few hundred million years. It was a rough time, but, ironically, the Earth was saved by an accumulation of 350 times our present level of CO2.

        What's really interesting about Earth's past is that the atmospheric composition has varied rather wildly. It is not at all automatic that we have 78% nitrogen, 20% oxygen and then some other gasses. I have no idea how they infer atmosphere, but it must have something to do with chemicals found in rocks and knowledge of how those chemicals must have been made, coupled with radioactive dating. Incidentally, the overall portion of CO2 in the air is rather small, something like 0.04% (and going up). For all the talk about whether the CO2 is manmade or not, or whether it causes global warming, some facts are most certainly known. First, the CO2 level has doubled in a 100 years, and when a planet wide change happens that fast, you really do have to have cause for concern. All sorts of questions need to be asked, but the big one is, is the rate of doubling changing? Like, will we double it again in 50 years, then 25 again, and so on? I think we only need to double the atmosphere not too many times before we all die.
      • by SetupWeasel (54062) on Sunday April 09, 2006 @10:57PM (#15097233) Homepage
        Venus rotates on it's axis once every 243 Earth days. One Venusian day (sunrise to sunrise) is 117 Earth days. It also gets a hell of a lot more radiation than the Earth.

        My guess, if it had oceans, the 59 days of straight sunlight would cause them to boil away. With the oceans gone, the surface would bake and scorch sending more gases into the air.
        • Does anyone else think it's a happy coincidence that the Earth day is 24 hours long, and that humans work on a 24 hour day pattern?
          It's very fortuitious.
          • Actually, I seem to recall reading back in freshman Psych (umpty-leven years ago) of a study that showed that people who are deprived of environmental cues to the time of day tend to settle into a 27- to 28-hour pattern of activity. (Can't seem to find any links to such a study at the moment, though, so it's entirely possible I'm misremembering. Or maybe I just need sleep.)
            • Actually, I seem to recall reading back in freshman Psych (umpty-leven years ago) of a study that showed that people who are deprived of environmental cues to the time of day tend to settle into a 27- to 28-hour pattern of activity. (Can't seem to find any links to such a study at the moment, though, so it's entirely possible I'm misremembering. Or maybe I just need sleep.)

              The study was partially discreditted, something about certain exstrenal ques giving them a pattern of 27.
          • Was that a joke? It's sometimes hard to tell on /.

            The reason we're adapted to a 24 hour day is because earth has always had a 24 hour rotation period (more or less anyway, since IIRC it's slowed down slightly over many millions of years). It's simple evolutionary biology - we have X time per day to take advantage of, and thus we have become adapted to that many. If earth had a 40 hour day, we'd have adapted to that instead.
          • An Earth day has no always been 24 hours long (and will not remain so). Orbital interaction with the moon is gradually slowing down the rotation of the planet, and increasing the length of a day. Most estimates put the original rotation period of Earth at closer to 14 hours.

            So basically, only reason humans are "24 hour cycle" creatures is because this is the environment that we evolved in. As the day lengthens (assuming we're still here), we'll adapt to that as well.
        • So, increase the rotation. Gosh, do I have to think of everything?
      • Is it conceivable that the climate there went haywire within human history? Given the current pressure, temperature, and chemical composition of the atmosphere on Venus, is there any chance that any indications at all could have survived of a possible former ecosystem there?

        There is no evidence that Venus climate has changed recently. But the planet may undergo extreme resurfacing [ox.ac.uk] periodically due to the apparent lack of plate tectonics and high heat flow. The surface may liquify every few 100 Myr. This

  • by ThatGeek (874983) on Sunday April 09, 2006 @09:42PM (#15097066) Homepage
    So let's send them all back!!!
  • Title is misleading (Score:5, Informative)

    by nacnud75 (963443) on Sunday April 09, 2006 @09:42PM (#15097069)
    "ESA to Send Spacecraft to Venus"? They already did, Venus Express [esa.int] launched on 2006-11-09, it arives at Veuns on Tuesday.
  • by NoseBag (243097) on Sunday April 09, 2006 @09:44PM (#15097073)
    Is this article a bit late?

    See here:

    http://sci.esa.int/science-e/www/area/index.cfm?fa reaid=64 [esa.int]

    The thing is due to achieve orbit in a few days.
  • Wrap yourself in a thick blanket and stand next to the fireplace... Ill bet youll be pretty hot too!
  • Venus storm footage (Score:5, Interesting)

    by lifeisgreat (947143) on Sunday April 09, 2006 @09:48PM (#15097089) Homepage
    I've always had a fascination with storms, and now that I live at the beach I get to watch water-spouts, lightning and angry seas a couple times a week. But given the exotic atmosphere and storm systems on Venus, I could only imagine how breath-taking a full-color video could be from the ground. Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] says that at ground level there's almost no wind at all, but the thick sulfuric acid / sulfur dioxide clouds are constantly churning at 300+ km/h. Imagine looking up to a sight like that.

    I just think that'd be incredible. Until everything melted.

    • by khayman80 (824400)
      Unfortunately, due to the high density of the atmosphere on the surface of Venus, you wouldn't be able to see more than a couple of meters (in visible light, at least).

      The same mechanism that makes the earth's sky blue (wavelength dependant scattering of light) would, on Venus, scatter visible light to a much higher degree due to the density of the atmosphere. You wouldn't be able to see very far unless you used false-color imaging from the infrared or perhaps microwave parts of the EM spectrum.

      Bummer.

  • by samurphy21 (193736) on Sunday April 09, 2006 @10:02PM (#15097125) Homepage
    At least the ESA can probably convert from old timey to scientific measurements properly.

    <Mission control> Spacecraft 1, you are currently 1300 rods from impact, at a fuel consumption rate of 4 7/16 hogshead per mile. Be advised.

    <Spacecraft> WTF?!
  • by adyus (678739)

    Huh, I guess now that the space rovers on Mars failed to find any men, the geeks over at NASA are wondering if they'll discover any specimens of so-called "girls" on Venus...

    Who knows, after this we might even get to understand how they work...
  • by UniverseIsADoughnut (170909) on Sunday April 09, 2006 @10:14PM (#15097146)
    Poor planet, can't people leave it alone. It's just minding its own business and here come some dudes probing it. Would you want that, your just bumming around and whamo! probe to the ass in the name of science.

    Stop planet Abuse now!
  • As far as I am aware, we know a lot less about the surface of Venus than we do about the surface of Mars or say, Mercury, or even Pluto. Given that Venus is relatively close to us, it seems to make sense to go about exploring it - especially since our satellites can't peer through the thick atmosphere.
    • by Guppy06 (410832) on Monday April 10, 2006 @02:18AM (#15097668)
      "As far as I am aware, we know a lot less about the surface of Venus than we do about the surface of Mars or say, Mercury, or even Pluto."

      Since the Magellan probe (which someone else already pointed you to), we've known more about the surface of Venus than we have about the Earth (oceans get in the way). Mars has been similarly mapped within the past decade or so, thanks to various orbiters. Mercury is something of the bastard child of the inner solar system; there's a probe on the way now, but the best we have is from a Mariner 10 fly-by that photographed most of one side of the planet before most of us were born.

      Pluto... we're not even all that sure there is a "surface," at least for half of its orbit.
    • It makes sense if we can do it. Exploring venus is bloody hard - I'm not sure we've even made a probe that can reach the surface intact, yet alone a rover that would function there.
  • by HoneyBeeSpace (724189) on Sunday April 09, 2006 @10:22PM (#15097163) Homepage
    Check out http://www.mentallandscape.com/V_Venus.htm [mentallandscape.com] for an excellent archive of the Soviet exploration of Venus.

    Venera 9 [mentallandscape.com] sent image telemetry for 50 minutes. It scanned 174 of the panorama from left to right, and then 124 scanning right to left.

    They drilled, photographed, and used penetrometers on the surface. Each mission lasts a few hours to days before the atmosphere crumples the spacecraft like a soda can due to the pressure. Much different than life on Mars!
  • Terraforming (Score:2, Interesting)

    by orangepeel (114557)
    I've been reading Slashdot for years and while there's always a ton of comments in the Mars articles about how great it would be terraform that planet, no one ever mentions doing so to Venus.

    Why??

    I look at the gravity situation and I really can't understand why people focus on Mars. Really. Does anyone ever look at the surface gravity of Mars before they start talking about terraforming it? It's only 38% of Earth's! (Compare that with freaking Mercury at 28%, or even the Moon at about 17%. ) What
    • Re:Terraforming (Score:3, Insightful)

      by SetupWeasel (54062)
      Too many people get their science from fiction books. Mars has too little gravity and Venus has too long of a day to create an Earth-like planet out of them.
      • Speaking of science fiction books, some aliens in Star Trek [amazon.com] have come up with a solution to that "too long of a day" problem!
      • Too many people get their science from fiction books. Mars has too little gravity and Venus has too long of a day to create an Earth-like planet out of them.

        The long day (and lack of water) might be solved by smashing icy astroids into venus at just the right angle to get it to spin (taking enormous amounts of energy... but possible). Once the spin is sufficient we coudl use bacteria/nanobots to convert the c02 into carbonate formes and the increases rotation might cause a Magnetosphere to form? I'm not eve
    • Where's the love and the dreams for Venus?

      You have a point, but I think it's clear why people don't think of Venus as a suitable planet: from every description, the surface of Venus sounds exactly like the description of Hell. Who would want to live in Hell? Mars, on the other hand, just looks a bit rocky and barren (you can't see the lack of gravity or atmosphere in the pictures). Granted, with sufficient terraforming they could both be completely different, but in the popular imagination, Mars looks a

    • Of course, the answer is easy; Package the CO2 and send it to mars. Then have 2 for the price of one. Interestingly, with an atmosphere of 90x earth, it would be easy to keep something up high and "fire off the top layers of the atmosphere aimed at mars.Of course, you have to freeze it and then send it to mars, while keeping it frozen in the glare of the sun. Perhaps a small shield built up from the mars material.
    • Re:Terraforming (Score:3, Interesting)

      by forkazoo (138186)

      But seriously ... why, after comparing the two planets, do people focus on Mars? I'm asking an honest question. From my perspective, Mars has so little to work with. Venus has plenty -- too much in fact. But think about it. Humans have proven themselves pretty good at destroying atmospheres. They're not so good at creating them. And in the case of Mars, you need to create an atmosphere. But in the case of Venus, you need to destroy it. Doesn't this make Venus a more natural candidate for human endeavours?

      We

    • Re:Terraforming (Score:3, Informative)

      by DerekLyons (302214)

      I'm sure plenty of people far smarter than I ever will be have considered Venus and dismissed the idea after a few seconds of thought. But why? And why is Mars, with such wimpy gravity and such a scarce existing atmosphere given all the attention when it comes to dreams of terraforming?

      There are several reasons but two biggies;

      1 - Suit and machinery design for Mars are overwhelmingly easier. (Think Mars = suburban backyard. Venus = two feet under flowing lava on the bottom of the Marianas Trench.)

      2 - No

      • Find a NICE big asteroid that could be "nudged" with selective nuclear strikes (we don't need to destroy it...just nudge it, so the further out we find it the less we'll need to nudge it).

        After the asteroid hits the surface hopefully much of that atmosphere would get ejected into space. Now I'm not saying that afterwards it would be simple to terraform but after the impact (and of course waiting some time to see how the planet takes it) it might be easier.

        Plus....planetary scientists would LOVE to see what
    • Re:Terraforming (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Jerf (17166) on Monday April 10, 2006 @01:12AM (#15097522) Journal
      Heh, you've attracted a lot of replies and nobody's yet hit the right answer.

      Propose your choice of terraforming technique. Convert one chemical into another, physically remove the atmosphere, don't care which you choose, really.

      Now, compute the energy requirements of your terraforming action.

      Then you shall achieve enlightenment.

      In short, terraforming Mars for a geologically brief period of time is on the tantalizing edge of feasibility, because a lot of it would involve slightly nudging comets and such to hit Mars. That's a net gravitational energy reduction, and we might be able to manage that. Even so, it might not work; I think it far more likely you'd have to build enclosed settlements, or perhaps even more likely, modify life forms to live on Mars basically as it is, possibly with some resources augmented by the aforementioned comets. But to get from Venus as it is, to a Venus we could walk on, would take an astronomical amount of energy no matter how you slice it. (A rather small "astronomical" amount of energy as such things go, but "astronomical" nonetheless.) It's one of those things that by the time we can do it, we'll probably have better uses for that sort of energy.

      By the way, I'm actually-factually talking about energy states, in the technical thermodynamic sense. It's not a matter of waiting for "science" to wave a magic wand; any 'science' that can re-write the laws of thermodynamics is well beyond anything we can speculate about. Conservation laws are about the strongest physics results we have.
      • Re:Terraforming (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Quadraginta (902985) on Monday April 10, 2006 @02:10AM (#15097652)
        You make a good argument, but I'd like to add a qualification. I'm not sure the availability of energy itself is a problem with Venus. More than enough energy for any conceivable terraforming rains down on Venus from the Sun. And it's quite usable energy, since its temperature is close to that of the solar photosphere (5500K). Thermodynamically speaking, you can run some very efficient heat engines between a hot reservoir at 5500K and a cold reservoir at even the high temperatures of Venus (300-700K, depending on altitude).

        So the energy is there. But it isn't necessarily easy to use. The only plausible scenario probably remains some kind of biological seeding, i.e. designing some kind of photosynthesizing microbial life that can suck up all that CO2 and convert it to carbonate rock, as such life is thought to have done in the early history of the Earth, which is where our CO2 went and why we have great beds of limestone in the crust.

        But I believe the problem with this is that there is very little water in the Venusian atmosphere, and all the microbial life we know about needs water. Furthermore, such a seeding process would not be quick -- at a minimum, millions of years are necessary -- and it might be hard to put the brakes on at the end.
      • Heh, you've attracted a lot of replies and nobody's yet hit the right answer.

        Try this for a right answer. Living here on good old mother earth, we are quite concerned about a possible 0.02% change in the CO2 concentration of the atmosphere. Apparently it's a problem, yet, by bringing all of the resources of the planet together, we dont have an engineering solution to solve this trivial little detail.

        Now you guys are talking about manufacturing an atmosphere from scratch, or changing 99% of the com

    • Re:Terraforming (Score:2, Informative)

      by EnsignFlandry (894050)
      Where's the love and the dreams for Venus?

      right here in this here paper is where it is.

      http://powerweb.grc.nasa.gov/pvsee/publications/ve nus/VenusColony_STAIF03.pdf [nasa.gov]

      From the link:

      Abstract. Although the surface of Venus is an extremely hostile environment, at about 50 kilometers above the
      surface the atmosphere of Venus is the most earthlike environment (other than Earth itself) in the solar system. It is
      proposed here that in the near term, human exploration of Venus could take place from aerostat vehicles in
    • But...why is having roughly 1g of gravity worth the enormous trouble of coping with pressures comparable to those at the bottom of the ocean? And temperatures so high in a corrosive atmosphere that only special and expensive building materials could stand it?

      What's wrong with having only a third of a gee or so of gravity? From the point of view of building structures, it's a boon. You have enough gravity to keep stuff in place, and allow conventional building techniques (unlike in orbit), but you can mak
    • Re:Terraforming (Score:2, Interesting)

      by zacronos (937891)

      Humans have proven themselves pretty good at destroying atmospheres. They're not so good at creating them. And in the case of Mars, you need to create an atmosphere. But in the case of Venus, you need to destroy it. Doesn't this make Venus a more natural candidate for human endeavours?

      There's a small problem with this part of your logic. We don't need to just destroy the current atmosphere, we need to engineer an atmosphere similar to ours. You're right that it probably wouldn't be terribly difficult t

  • Mars (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Considering how good their track record is on Mars, I am not surprised they are going to Venus.
  • Television (Score:5, Informative)

    by heli0 (659560) on Sunday April 09, 2006 @11:23PM (#15097296)
    The Discovery Science channel is running a special, "Venus Unveiled", about the planet and this ESA program. It airs several times during the next 2 weeks.

    http://science.discovery.com/tvlistings/episode.js p?episode=0&cpi=117536&gid=0&channel=SCI [discovery.com]

  • Be sure to pressurize the probe first (to match that of the Venus atmosphere) before launching it -- that way, if something goes wrong, and it ends up back on Earth and begins a path of destruction, it can be destoyed by simply attaching a cable and raising it up high in our atmosphere ...

    Unless of course your goal is to make it somewhat resistant to any men who cost about 67 million pesos [imdb.com], in which case do not pressurize it beforehand ...

  • by ZoneGray (168419) on Monday April 10, 2006 @03:19AM (#15097807) Homepage
    That proves it. Americans are from Mars, Europeans are from Venus.

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