Why is it so hot? Could Venus’s runaway greenhouse effect one day happen on Earth? Why does the entire surface of the planet seem to have been resurfaced in one go? And do the opaque clouds which surround Venus host an even greater mystery: alien life?
Presenter Adam Hart-Davis reports from a tense mission control in Germany as the spacecraft is manoeuvred into orbit. He also takes a quick “holiday” to the surface of Venus, as Dr Janet Sumner, a volcanologist from the Open University, replicates Venusian conditions in the lab on Earth: crushing atmospheric pressure 90 times that of Earth, temperature 200 oC hotter than a domestic oven, and corrosive clouds of sulphuric acid.
Janet also visits the barren volcanic island of Lanzarote, resurfaced in a similar fashion to Venus – but only 300 years ago, and Myleene Klass, musician and Open University astronomy student, shows how you can see Venus for yourself.
Dr David Rothery, volcanologist and Chair of the Open University’s planetary science courses explains why the study of Venus is so important: “At the birth of the Solar System, there was very little difference between Venus and the Earth. Their size, mass and density are all quite close yet Venus has evolved in an entirely different way.
“Venus lost its water, but retained a dense carbon dioxide atmosphere. On Earth the carbon dioxide dramatically reduced with the development of life. Unlike Earth, because there is no water, there is no plate tectonics and only sporadic volcanic activity. This may mean that the heat inside the planet is trapped until catastrophic eruptions resurface the whole planet in one go every half billion years or so.”
Stardate: Mysteries of Venus is an Open University programme which broadcasts on BBC TWO at 7.00pm and 11.50pm on Wednesday 12th April, 2006.
First broadcast: Wednesday 12 Apr 2006 on BBC TWO