- NASA/Goddard/Conceptual Image Lab, Krystofer Kim
Venus is like Earth on fire. Although Venus is about as much as 10 times hotter, the planets are similar in size and gravity.
And billions of years ago, Venus might have had something else in common with Earth.
Scientists have reason to believe that this inferno of a planet was once home to bountiful Earth-like oceans. That’s because the planet contains atmospheric deuterium, a form of hydrogen found in our own oceans.
But now the planet is bone-dry – it’s atmosphere contains as much as 100,000 times less water than Earth’s.
Scientists have found evidence that electric winds may have stripped Venus of all of its water. These new findings could change the way we approach space exploration in the future.
Where did all the water go?
It would be no shock if Venus’ water simply boiled away under the intense heat of the sun. But, if that were the case, then there should be telltale molecules lingering in the atmosphere.
For a while, scientists thought that flows of charged particles from the sun, called solar winds, had zapped the planet dry.
But according to a new study in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, it was an intense electric wind that stripped the planet of its water. These sweeping electric fields can actually overcome a planet’s gravity, pulling molecules from the atmosphere into space.
“We found that the electric wind, which people thought was just one small cog in a big machine, is in fact this big monster that’s capable of sucking the water from Venus by itself,” Glyn Collinson, coauthor of the new study, said in a statement.
This electric wind, at about 10 volts, is at least as much as five times as strong as Earth’s, The Washington Post reports. Scientists still aren’t sure why Venus’ electric wind is so much stronger than Earth’s, but they think that it might have something to do with how close Venus is to the sun.
What this means
The researchers believe that this is a crucial finding for the future of space exploration. Knowing more about the causes and effects of electric winds will inform our search for extraterrestrial life on exoplanets.
It could also play a factor with what planets we decide to colonize in our own solar system.
The Washington Post writes:
“Although Mars gets the lion’s share of attention for future human missions, scientists have pointed to the Venusian atmosphere as a candidate for floating colonies. The trip to Venus would take less travel time, and the planet boasts better radiation protection and a more amenable pressure.”
But these intense electric winds might thwart future plans to set up camp on the hellish planet.
“It’s amazing, shocking,” NASA’s Glyn A. Collinson, an expert in atmospheric electric fields and an author of the new study, said in the statement. “We never dreamt an electric wind could be so powerful that it can suck oxygen right out of an atmosphere into space.”
Watch NASA explain how these electric winds stripped Venus of its water in the video below: