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(io9)   Should we terraform Venus first?   (io9.com ) divider line
    More: Interesting, greenhouse effect, magnetosphere, positive feedback, sulfur dioxide, James Oberg, runaway greenhouse effect, reflecting telescopes, GMO  
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4540 clicks; posted to Geek » on 12 Oct 2012 at 11:00 AM (3 years ago)   |   Favorite    |   share:  Share on Twitter share via Email Share on Facebook   more»



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2012-10-12 11:33:41 AM  
3 votes:
Let me just throw out some numbers. You have to get rid of 89 Earth atmospheres of sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide. You have to bring in several oceans worth of water to replace what's been lost. Don't forget that you're deep in the solar gravity well, which makes all that harder. Then you have to cool an entire planetary surface by at least 500 degrees Kelvin. You have to somehow deal with solar flux 2.4 times that of Earth. And either you just live with a 243 Earth-day rotation or you have to somehow speed up the rotation of an entire planet. Sure, Venus is a better sized planet for long-term viability of the atmosphere. But it's a really crappy place to terraform.

Compare that with Mars. You need to add two Earth atmospheres (you need some extra for gradual loss, for radiation shielding and for greenhouse effect). You need to warm an entire planet by 50 degrees Kelvin. You need maybe an ocean's worth of water. Rotation is fine. Maybe you need to put in to place some safeguards to keep the atmosphere up (maybe putting comets into orbits that cause them to impact every 50,000 years to replenish volatiles), but it's a much easier deal.
2012-10-12 03:00:27 PM  
2 votes:

theorellior: Let me just throw out some numbers. You have to get rid of 89 Earth atmospheres of sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide. You have to bring in several oceans worth of water to replace what's been lost. Don't forget that you're deep in the solar gravity well, which makes all that harder. Then you have to cool an entire planetary surface by at least 500 degrees Kelvin. You have to somehow deal with solar flux 2.4 times that of Earth. And either you just live with a 243 Earth-day rotation or you have to somehow speed up the rotation of an entire planet. Sure, Venus is a better sized planet for long-term viability of the atmosphere. But it's a really crappy place to terraform.

Compare that with Mars. You need to add two Earth atmospheres (you need some extra for gradual loss, for radiation shielding and for greenhouse effect). You need to warm an entire planet by 50 degrees Kelvin. You need maybe an ocean's worth of water. Rotation is fine. Maybe you need to put in to place some safeguards to keep the atmosphere up (maybe putting comets into orbits that cause them to impact every 50,000 years to replenish volatiles), but it's a much easier deal.


You would also need to generate a global magnetic field on Mars, not so simple.
2012-10-12 11:18:59 AM  
2 votes:

macdaddy357: Mars is too far from the sun and too small to be a place for us to live. Venus is too close to the sun. Making sure we don't trash Earth is what we need to do. Star Trek is never going to be real.


I like how the author starts with "As a future terraforming species". Fark, we can't even get a hockey season underway.

/bitter
2012-10-12 11:17:03 AM  
2 votes:
Except for the severly toxic atmosphere we could never live in... yeah, Venus would be great. You just go first and let me know how it works out.
2012-10-13 08:06:00 AM  
1 vote:
"Should carbon emissions continue to increase at the current rate, they warn, we may hit a critical tipping point after which a positive feedback loop will be created between the surface of the Earth and the increasingly thick and opaque atmosphere above it. Hypothetically, the effect would instigate a rapid and progressively escalating rise in temperature that would eventually result in the extermination of all life on the planet and the evaporation of the oceans.

No one knows for sure if this will be the ultimate climax of human-caused global warming, but it's a possibility that clearly needs to be taken seriously. It's a genuine existential risk.

To say that Venus has a lot of CO2 in its atmosphere would be a gross understatement. Over 96% of its atmosphere consists of CO2
"

So we have a genuine risk of making our air contain 96% co2?

bad article is bad and it should feel bad
2012-10-12 09:28:00 PM  
1 vote:

Mugato: Wouldn't be easier to "terraform" (I realize this is an incorrect term because I'm talking about Earth) the parts of Earth that we consider uninhabitable (deserts, the arctic, the ocean) than to colonize another farking planet or moon?


Yes, but it doesn't solve a fundamental problem with Earth: single point of failure. As long as mankind remains an Earthbound species, we are vulnerable to a planetwide calamity that could kill us all, dinosaur style. If we terraform a couple other planets or moons and get a self-sustaining colony going, then humanity survives even if the Earth gets blown up for an interstellar bypass.
2012-10-12 09:19:58 PM  
1 vote:

RedVentrue: way south: Skyfrog: Ha. We can't even keep our own planet habitable.

Because there's too many people who take the biosphere we live in for granted.
There are also too many interests that either want to have things their own way or will attempt to milk humanities fears for quick cash.

The great thing about terraformation of another world is that it will both establish that man made change is possible and define how much change is required to see a result. If nothing else, its a great thought experiment for coming to terms with our present situation.
I think we should attempt to terraform a large area just to help set peoples minds right about what we should do with Earth.

/My personal pick would have been to try and create a geofront on the moon before attempting a whole planet.
/Ambitious as hell, but still within the realm of present day technology.

Von Neumann machines.


We don't have self assembling machines, but we've got the next best thing: Bacteria.
Problem is finding a niche where they can grow in massive numbers and do their alchemy.
2012-10-12 06:04:20 PM  
1 vote:

Suede head: How about we gradually reduce the human population to around 1-2 billion and live within our means? Of course it would take a world government to enforce that.


It probably wouldn't need to be enforced. As populations get richer, better educated, and live longer, they tend to have less kids. In fact, they tend to reproduce below replacement rates. Provided we don't cock up the planet too quickly, the population should eventually stabilize (probably between 10-13 billion), and then potentially start shrinking. If there's a worthwhile planet left 100-300 years from now, the population may actually be more reasonable, and possibly shrinking. Eventually, it may reach a sustainable* level.

*Not really. The richer, better educated, and longer living we seem to get, the more resources we consume. Unless our great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandkids are far wiser than us.
2012-10-12 06:04:10 PM  
1 vote:

Suede head: How about we gradually reduce the human population to around 1-2 billion and live within our means? Of course it would take a world government to enforce that.


Or a world war.

/the last time, people got all uppity just because we decided to limit battleships.
/now we've got to tell some nations they aren't allowed to reproduce?
2012-10-12 05:57:49 PM  
1 vote:
How about we gradually reduce the human population to around 1-2 billion and live within our means? Of course it would take a world government to enforce that.
2012-10-12 05:02:45 PM  
1 vote:

macdaddy357: Mars is too far from the sun and too small to be a place for us to live. Venus is too close to the sun. Making sure we don't trash Earth is what we need to do. Star Trek is never going to be real.


I tend to agree. I don't have hope for humanity in the future really. We'll likely just run out of natural resources before we get the technology for resource attainment to be self-sustaining. Case in point, the fact that helium is used commonly in high tech machines, such as MRIs, but is somehow still cheap enough to waste on balloons when we'll literally running out of it.
2012-10-12 04:38:37 PM  
1 vote:
In my view, justifying terraforming requires thinking of things in the long term.
Yes we can build a structure to house humans, but how long would it possibly last?
What about all the other critters we want to keep around?
You can't always live in a box.

Finding a new home to survive in over millions of years means learning how to create worlds, not just buildings.

So far as Venus, I think its the most guilt free option. There's no chance of life ever starting there on its own, and seeding it with life might even be easier than doing the same to mars because it already has a livable region.
The catch is you'll have to start in the upper atmosphere, where the pressures and temperatures are almost bearable.

/The biggest problem is giving it some kind of rotational boost.
/Without that, even if you deal with the atmosphere its going to have some nasty winds.
2012-10-12 04:27:06 PM  
1 vote:
You don't have to terraform Venus to colonize it, as long as you don't plan on living on the surface.

Venus' atmosphere is so dense that nitrogen-oxygen air is a lifting gas more powerful there than helium is here. It would be comparatively trivial to build large Zeppelin-type colony structures filled with air at Earth pressures, and they would float at an altitude where the temperatures and pressures are basically comparable to Earth's surface. Your colony structure is self-contained, protected against radiation, and thanks to the high speed winds higher in the Venusian atmosphere, would experience a relatively normal day/night cycle.

Of course, there's no reason to do it, other than as a base for scientific exploration of the planet. You can't move enough people there to act as a significant lifeboat for the Earth, owing to the engineering challenges of structures big enough to house them. And there's no way for said colony to acquire its own resources, other than solar power and the capture of carbon and sulfur

Of course, you could use such aerostats as a springboard for terraforming, by deploying unmanned stations that would suck up CO2 and convert it to carbon black, aka soot, then spray the soot into the air to create an effect similar to nuclear winter. Turning the atmosphere black would raise the temperature in the cloud layer, of course, but the continual shade would lead to eventual cooling further down.
2012-10-12 04:13:28 PM  
1 vote:
Ehh, it looks like the googles favor an impactor as the reason for Venus' spin, although not an oblique impactor. If a large enough protoplanet hit properly it could have cancelled out the spin without being oblique. Also, evidently Venus' rotation is very close to a 3:2 tidal lock with Earth's orbital period.

However, there are huge amounts of theories out there that are pretty weird, including that Mercury formed as a moon of Venus during this impact and later was captured by the Sun, that Venus has been pouring water and nitrates down on Earth for 500 million years, and the whole crazytrain of Velikovsky's theories.
2012-10-12 04:01:50 PM  
1 vote:

RedVentrue: You have to have a robust magnetic field.


Well, then, Venus is out for terraforming, too. It's even worse than Mars, because solar flux is so much higher.
2012-10-12 04:00:22 PM  
1 vote:

RedVentrue: The dense atmosphere would be created by outgassing during the impact. The scar would have been obliterated during the resurfacing of the planet. Look at the models for the impact theory fo the creation of the moon.


If you're bringing in the Theia impact as part of your argument, why didn't Venus end up with a moon (or several), and why did Earth's rotation stay so fast?
2012-10-12 03:59:59 PM  
1 vote:

RedVentrue: theorellior: RedVentrue: Venus has a VERY slow retrograde spin as compared to the all the other planets in the Solar system. What happens when you hit a spinning object at an oblique angle against the direction of it's spin? The spin stops or reverses depending on the size and trajectory of the impactor. Venus has an amosphere density of 65 kg/m³, as compared to earth's 1.217 kg/m3.

See, an oblique impactor suffficient to do all that you're describing would have blown off most of the atmosphere, left a nasty scar and littered Venus' orbit with debris. That is, if the impact hadn't split Venus like a melon.

The dense atmosphere would be created by outgassing during the impact. The scar would have been obliterated during the resurfacing of the planet. Look at the models for the impact theory fo the creation of the moon.


I'm partial to the idea that the retrograde rotation was caused by a major impact billions of years ago, much like what happened on earth to form the moon. Venus probably also got a moon out of the deal, but it's possible that it didn't form as far out, and has since crashed back into the planet. This would explain both the global resurfacing event and the retrograde spin without resorting to a massive impact with a rogue bolide so long after the heavy bombardment period ended, and also explain why there is no ring, moon, or other debris you'd expect from a recent massive impact. That said, I have no idea what this would have done to the atmosphere, but I do suspect that a moon impacting the surface would have blasted pretty much all gasses into space. Is outgassing after the impact enough to replenish it? I have no idea. But that's my personal pet theory.
2012-10-12 03:36:06 PM  
1 vote:

Bubbageegee: You would also need to generate a global magnetic field on Mars, not so simple.


That's why I gave the terraformed Mars 2 Earth atmospheres of air. The lesser gravity would keep the surface pressure manageable, and the extra air would shield better against solar radiation.
2012-10-12 03:01:20 PM  
1 vote:

Honest Bender: RedVentrue: This is why Venus is so much hotter than the Earth.

Lol. Right. It has nothing to do with its proximity to the sun...


Actually he is right. It is the atmosphere. Mercury is closer but you wouldn't want to sunbathe on the night side.
2012-10-12 02:54:28 PM  
1 vote:

Grapple: Except for the severly toxic atmosphere we could never live in... yeah, Venus would be great. You just go first and let me know how it works out.


That's what terraforming is for, to alter the atmosphere. It happened on Earth when the atmosphere was heavily oxygenated, facilitating the invasion of land and explosion of life on Earth.
2012-10-12 02:52:52 PM  
1 vote:

RedVentrue: Even if you were to shield Venus from extra sular energy, a day on Venus is 243 earth days, which is actually longer than the Venutian year. Venus has been impacted by something large enough to stop it's rotation, not so long ago. It has been completely resurfaced as well by the impact. This is why Venus is so much hotter than the Earth. An impact, not a runaway greenhouse effect has caused the current conditions on Venus.


ER... no. Venus is still rotating, that's why it has a day. It is rotating slowly, but rotating nonetheless. How on Earth you can say it has a day and then say it's rotation has stopped is beyond me.

The impact did not resurface the planet, and that statement is preposterous. An impact resurfaced an entire planet? What hit it? Farking Neptune? Nonsense. It was resurfaced by volcanism, which also accounts for the greenhouse effect.
2012-10-12 02:30:35 PM  
1 vote:

RandomAxe: If you have the capacity to transfer large populations to another planet, you have the technology to have them all live comfortably indoors, in very large structures, or underground. Or just live in space, where there's plenty of space. Terraforming is a ridiculously long-term, inefficient use of resources.


Yep. If we can terraform, we can almost certainly build a habitat with a few acres of solar panels large enough to house a significant number of humans. Put it inside Venus's orbit and it would have virtually unlimited energy, which makes closed system recycling practical.

If you're really ambitious you can add a particle scoop facing the sun to collect a few kilos of new mass every year.
2012-10-12 02:27:45 PM  
1 vote:

Ramien: Mugato: Wouldn't be easier to "terraform" (I realize this is an incorrect term because I'm talking about Earth) the parts of Earth that we consider uninhabitable (deserts, the arctic, the ocean) than to colonize another farking planet or moon?

Yes and no.

We certainly have access to the deserts, arctic areas, and oceans right now, and we have the technology to live there, although that's more building sealed enclosures than actual terraforming.

However, to try and terraform the currently inhabitable areas would have severe effects on the rest of the planet. Deserts are deserts because they don't naturally get much water. We can pipe in water, but that reduces the water that other areas have available, and potentially dries up nearby rivers and lakes, again having bad effects on the nearby areas.

If we were to warm up the arctic areas enough to actually live there easily... well, that's called global warming, and I think that's been discussed enough already.


I understand that and it would be hard to teraform the rest of the world. All of the desert can't be Las Vegas. But even if we had to build domes or underwater habitats, it's be easier than colonizing other planets.
2012-10-12 02:17:07 PM  
1 vote:

Mugato: Wouldn't be easier to "terraform" (I realize this is an incorrect term because I'm talking about Earth) the parts of Earth that we consider uninhabitable (deserts, the arctic, the ocean) than to colonize another farking planet or moon?


Yes and no.

We certainly have access to the deserts, arctic areas, and oceans right now, and we have the technology to live there, although that's more building sealed enclosures than actual terraforming.

However, to try and terraform the currently inhabitable areas would have severe effects on the rest of the planet. Deserts are deserts because they don't naturally get much water. We can pipe in water, but that reduces the water that other areas have available, and potentially dries up nearby rivers and lakes, again having bad effects on the nearby areas.

If we were to warm up the arctic areas enough to actually live there easily... well, that's called global warming, and I think that's been discussed enough already.
2012-10-12 01:58:08 PM  
1 vote:
Why not just terraform both planets? Why create this dichotomy?
2012-10-12 01:12:17 PM  
1 vote:

mikefinch: I think it would be easier to live on / change a world with too much toxic atmosphere than on a world with to thin an atmosphere.


Is it easier to add two atmospheres or remove eighty-nine? Is it easier to heat up a simple pressure suit or cool an armored undersea diving suit that's immersed in sulfuric acid hot enough to melt lead?
2012-10-12 11:47:03 AM  
1 vote:
DRTFA, although a study of Venus can be beneficial to keeping up Earth's atmosphere.

Also, to those who are pooping all over the idea that living on other planets is a silly concept, so was having a space station, going to the moon, having telephones so small you can carry them around in your pocket... If it does happen, it will never happen in our lifetimes.
2012-10-12 11:23:01 AM  
1 vote:
I think that the reverse logic is more likely. Instead of creating technology to terraform Venus then using it to reverse climate change on Earth, we develop technology to reverse climate change or at least allow a portion of the population to survive it, then with that technology in our tool belt, Venus will seem a more attractive site for colonization.
2012-10-12 11:15:01 AM  
1 vote:

spelletrader: Or maybe we are already terraforming this plant planet for some other species.

/I'm not saying it was aliens, but...


FTFM
2012-10-12 11:14:25 AM  
1 vote:
Or maybe we are already terraforming this plant for some other species.

/I'm not saying it was aliens, but...
2012-10-12 11:03:31 AM  
1 vote:
It's called a shake and bake colony.
 
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