Should we terraform Venus?
Almost all of us have wondered what it might be like to live among the stars. No matter when in history, humanity has always had the dream of living on another planet. For the longest time, that’s all that it was. A dream. However, over the last few chapters of human history, that dream is looking more and more like a reality as we make greater advancements in spacefaring technology. As you may know, Mars has always been presented as humanity’s next home. It’s even the main topic of discussion for terraforming, which would be the complicated process of transforming the Red planet into another green, Earth-like planet where humans could live comfortably. Though terraforming would require a more technologically advanced humanity and a lot of time, we could at least begin the process in the relatively near future. This begs the question: is Mars really the best option for terraforming? What about our other neighbor, Venus, which is known for being “Earth’s twin” and the hottest planet in the solar system? Venus might actually be a more realistic option for terraforming, and here are some reasons why.
- Venus’s gravity is much more similar to Earth
One of the biggest issues with settling on Mars is its low gravity. We humans have adapted to Earth’s gravity of 9.81 m/s2. Mars’ gravity is only 38% of Earth’s gravity at 3.72 m/s2 due to its much smaller size. This is clearly a significant difference, and it could lead to major health risks, such as deteriorating muscle and bone density. Settlers would have to constantly exercise in order to maintain their health. Also, even if we were able to create an atmosphere with a pressure equal to Earth’s (at 101.325 kPa), it would only be able to retain 38% of that (38.44 kPa). This means that Mars’ atmosphere would never be fully breathable! On the other hand, Venus has 90% of Earth’s gravity at 8.87 m/s2. This much higher gravity will lead to a lower health risk over time. This gravity will also allow for a breathable atmosphere in the long run.
- Venus is a lot closer on average compared to Mars
When we start to terraform, being able to transport the necessary materials from Earth is a necessity. However, plants can be at vastly different points of the solar system at any one given time, as shown by this 3D map of the solar system by NASA. For example, Mars and the Earth are, on average, 140 million miles ( 225 million km) apart, ranging from 34.6 million miles (55.7 million km) apart at their closest point and 249 million miles (401.3 million km) apart at their furthest. The opportune moment to travel to Mars arrives once every two years and two months, which is when the Earth and Mars arrive at their closest distance. Compare that to Venus, with the closest distance being 23.7 million miles (38.2 million km) and the furthest being 23.7 million miles (38.2 million km). Venus arrives at its closest point to Earth once every year and seven months. Due to this proximity, it would be much easier to send operations to Venus, as they could happen quicker and more often.
- Venus is closer to the sun
This might seem pretty obvious, but Venus is much closer to the sun compared to Mars. How could this be beneficial? Well, its proximity would allow us to harvest a lot more solar energy from the sun, as solar panels would be a lot more efficient. This is essential, as having a reliable source of energy would be one of the most important things for any future settlers. On the other hand, Mars distance from the sun would mean that less solar energy could be harvested. This could be a disadvantage for early settlers, as they would have to find alternate sources of energy in order to be efficient.
- Venus has an atmosphere and better radiation protection
Radiation from the sun poses a huge challenge for settlers. Mars has very little atmosphere and no magnetic field, making it very susceptible to radiation from the sun. Radiation can have devastating effects on life, destroying DNA and leading to diseases such as cancer. Settlers on Mars would have to find a way to live underground to hide from the Sun’s rays. Venus however, has something called an Ionosphere. This Ionosphere is made of atoms in the Vesuvian atmosphere that are excited by the sun’s ultraviolet rays (becoming ions). This offers protection from the solar winds and combined with its thick atmosphere, this makes Venus much less susceptible to harmful radiation. There are still many more mysteries and discoveries to be made about Venus’ Ionosphere, which you can read more about here.
- We could build cities in the sky
Building cities in the sky has always been a fantasy of humanity. For Venus, it might just be the best solution, at least for the short term. About 30 miles above the surface (50 km), the conditions are actually pretty similar to those of Earth. The gravity, air pressure, and radiation shielding would all be comparable to that of Earth. Though the temperature would be about 140 F (60 C), it would be manageable with our technology. In fact, NASA has even designed a spacecraft called HAVOC (The High Altitude Venus Operational Concept) which would travel to the Vesuvian atmosphere to collect data. The best part would be that because the atmosphere, which is made primarily of CO2, is heavier than Earth’s air, we could simply fill a balloon with nitrogen and oxygen, and it would float! Then, all we would have to do is live inside this balloon. Though it would be difficult, we are not that far away from making this dream a reality.
No matter which planet we decide to settle on, we would still have to face extraordinary challenges. Even though both Venus and Mars show potential for human habitation, they also are completely hostile places for life. Not to mention that there is still so little that we know, especially about Venus. The first step would simply be to learn more, especially considering that Venus is one of the less-studied planets in the solar system. However, a future humanity armed with knowledge and determination could most certainly tackle such a herculean task, and we can begin to make our home in the stars.