Earth's "evil twin" planet has lost water and oxygen: is there a threat to us?

Maria ShevchukNews
Life may have existed on Venus - but long before life appeared on Earth. Source: Wikipedia.

In the distant past, water disappeared on Venus, and now oxygen and carbon are being pushed out of the upper atmosphere. Scientists fear that a similar situation will happen on Earth in due course.

This information was provided by representatives of the ESA/JAXA mission, which was heading to Mercury and flying past Venus. During the space visit, a short-term observation of the planet's induced magnetosphere took place, Nature Astronomy reports.

What is an induced magnetosphere?

Unlike Earth, Venus does not generate a magnetic field in its core. Instead, the planet is surrounded by a "weak, comet-like induced magnetosphere," Phys.org explains.

This magnetosphere is created "by the interaction of charged particles emitted by the Sun (the solar wind) with electrically charged particles in the upper layers of Venus' atmosphere."

"Around the magnetosphere is a region called the 'magnetosheath' where the solar wind slows down and heats up," it is explained further.

At the beginning of its history, interaction with the solar wind led to the disappearance of water on Venus. What remained was an atmosphere consisting mainly of carbon dioxide, small amounts of nitrogen, and other trace elements, the report adds.

What has the new study found?

According to a report on Phys.org, "the discovery in a previously unexplored region of Venus' magnetic environment" shows that carbon and oxygen are moving at such an accelerated rate that "they can escape the planet's gravitational pull."

It is noted that most of the heavy ions in the ionosphere of Venus are cold and slow moving. "This is the first time that positively charged carbon ions have escaped from Venus' atmosphere," said Lina Hadid, a CNRS researcher at the Laboratory of Plasma Physics (LPP) and lead author of the study.

How this is possible: "These are heavy ions that usually move slowly, so we are still trying to understand the mechanisms at work here. Perhaps they are being torn away from the planet by an electrostatic "wind", or they may be accelerated by centrifugal processes," says Hadid.

Earlier, scientists from NASA and University College London (UCL) found that the strength of Venus' electric field can accelerate the heavy electrically charged component of water, oxygen, to speeds sufficient to escape the planet's gravity.

Why is this new research important?

Scientists say that these results have important implications for the evolution of Venus' atmosphere and, in particular, for the evolution of water on the planet's surface.

Dominique Delcourt, an LPP researcher and principal investigator of the MSA instrument, was quoted by Phys.org: "Characterizing the loss of heavy ions and understanding their escape mechanisms on Venus is crucial to understanding the evolution of the planet's atmosphere and how it lost all its water."

In addition, the European Space Agency (ESA) notes: "There are no human activities on Venus, but studying its atmosphere provides a natural laboratory for better understanding the greenhouse effect."

Venus used to have "oceans like on Earth"

The European Space Agency and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration have repeatedly explained how Venus lost all the water on its surface. According to the space agencies, at some point in its history, Venus began to retain too much heat.

Venus is hotter than Mercury, which is closer to the Sun. The reason for this is a dense atmosphere that traps heat in the form of the greenhouse effect. This makes it the warmest planet in our solar system, with a surface temperature sufficient to melt lead.

"It was once thought to have oceans, but excessively high temperatures turned the water into thick water vapor, trapping heat until entire oceans evaporated completely. Water vapor continues to escape from Venus' atmosphere into space today," the European Space Agency (ESA) said.

Meanwhile, NASA explained that the "greenhouse effect" turned all surface water into steam, which then slowly escaped into space.

Study co-author Moa Persson of the Swedish Institute of Space Physics said: "The latest results indicate that the loss of the atmosphere cannot fully explain the lack of water on the planet...".

Is life possible on Venus?

"The current surface of the volcanic rock is destroyed by high temperatures and pressure. When asked whether the surface of Venus can be habitable today, we can give a quick answer: a firm no," NASA explains.

So why are researchers and astronomers interested in Venus? NASA says that although Venus is not currently habitable, the planet is in the Sun's "golden zone" and may have been habitable before the Earth.

Impact on the Earth?

"The proximity of Earth to Venus is a matter of perspective," NASA says.

Meanwhile, ESA explains that in the very long term – billions of years in the future – a "greenhouse Earth" is the inevitable result of the aging Sun.

"Our once life-giving star will eventually swell and grow brighter, injecting enough heat into the fragile Earth system to eventually become a true twin of Venus," the ESA says.

The evil twin

Venus is known as Earth's "evil twin" because the two planets are similar in many ways, but opposite in some aspects. NASA says that Venus is more of an opposite of the Earth than a twin.

Venus is the second planet from the Sun and the sixth largest planet. It is the hottest planet in our solar system. It is similar in structure and size to the Earth. However, the planet rotates in the opposite direction, the day is longer than a year, and there is no semblance of seasons.

Venus may have once been a habitable ocean, like Earth, but that was at least a billion years ago. "The atmosphere [of Venus] is so thick that the Sun is just a smear of light from the surface," NASA says.

"Scientists believe that Venus was once very similar to the Earth, but has undergone irreversible climate change, which is often used as an extreme example of what happens under the greenhouse effect," the ESA said.

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