Venus

For those who do not believe in hell, I have bad news: you are dead wrong. At any given moment this place is located between 41 million and 258 million kilometres away from Earth. Temperature over there is 462 degrees Celsius and its atmosphere is filled with acid. We call this place Venus.

At first sight Venus does not seem to be an interesting place for space colonists. In this post I will discuss the value of the second planet for future space colonization.

One of the most remarkable features of our twin-sister planet, is her thick atmosphere, (yes, this deserves her very own Wikipedia lemma). Her atmosphere’s main component is carbon dioxide (96.5%), followed by nitrogen (3.5%) and traces of other compounds.  One of these other compounds is sulphuric acid. This mineral acid is very corrosive, but nevertheless it is used in many important industrial processes. Hence the mining of sulphuric acid is quite interesting for space settlers.

Mining sulphuric acid from the atmosphere of Venus is in many aspects quite similar to mining helium 3 from the outer planets. So Venus might be used as a training ground for helium mining on, say, Uranus. Technologies developed for this economic activity can be used in the Outer Solar System, with modest adaptations.

But also Venus’s large nitrogen reserves are quite interesting. Nitrogen is essential for terrestrial life, and it’s one of the basic ingredients of fertilizers. Through the Baber-Bosch process ammonia is produced from nitrogen and hydrogen. And ammonia has, besides the production of fertilizers, many industrial applications.

And what to think of the enormous amount of carbon dioxide on Venus? Carbon dioxide can directly be used for growing crops, which utilize photosynthesis to convert water and carbon dioxide into biomass and oxygen. But these carbon dioxide reserves could also be used to produce graphene and synthetic diamonds. These substances have interesting properties for use in electronics.

In order to produce either graphene or diamonds, one has to reduce carbon dioxide to pure carbon. One way to do this is the Bosch reaction. In this process we let carbon dioxide react with hydrogen gas, the end product is carbon and water. Hydrogen gas has to be imported from outside Venus, but the water can be dumped on Venus itself, since there’s more than enough water in outer space.

At 50 km above the surface of Venus both temperature and atmospheric pressure are similar to those at Earth at sea level. But since carbon dioxide is has higher density than breathable air, the latter would be a lifting gas at Venus. A balloon, also known as aerostats, filled with air would float in the atmosphere of Venus. We can use such aerostats as a platform for our mining operations, and even as the site for processing the collected gases.

Though Venus herself is not suitable for colonization, her atmosphere is full of valuable resources for space settlements and their inhabitants. The greatest challenge to any mining activity in the atmosphere of Venus, is her relatively high escape velocity, which is slightly less than Earth’s.

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10 thoughts on “Venus”

    1. Good question. That are one of the thing we should talk about. Maybe a “bi-partisan” committee with representatives of sides should be involved in licensing.

      But thanks for posting comment #667 on this site!

  1. Something about Venus has puzzled me for decades, and to which I’ve found no satisfactory explanations. How can it maintain such a thick atmosphere so close to the Sun?

    Astronomers have said Earth would lose its atmosphere if it occupied Venus’ orbit due to the stronger influence of the solar wind at that distance. Observations of Venus also indicate that it has not experienced any recent geologic event or process that might account for its unusually thick atmosphere. Now, I understand that the predominant gas in the Venusian atmosphere (CO2) is much heavier than Earth’s (N2, O2) and therefore less susceptible to erosion from the solar wind; but, this fact doesn’t seem to provide a complete answer. The solar wind is much stronger at the orbit of Venus than it is at the orbit of Earth, and Venus has no appreciable magnetosphere that would protect its atmosphere as the Earth’s does. Something’s amiss here.

    Any thoughts on this? Some have hypothesized that Venus – lacking a steady internal heat releasing mechanism like plate tectonics on Earth – builds up internal heat to the point of catastrophic release (periodically) that completely resurfaces the planet and recharges the atmosphere with heavy volcanic gases. If true, that would be an amazing event to observe!

    1. Personally I haven’t heard that astronomers have said that if Earth was located where Venus is, it would lose its atmosphere. And since Venus has such a dense atmosphere, the hypothesis that solar winds there are strong enough the blow her atmosphere away, seems therefore to be false. Solar winds are subject to the inverse square law, so their strength decreases with the square of the distance. I guess that gravity is here a more important factor. If a planet’s gravitational field is stronger than the solar wind, it should be able to hold more of its atmosphere. Planets like Mercury and Mars have such low gravities that they have lost their atmospheres, and Venus and Earth have lost all elementary hydrogen and helium in their atmospheres. In absence of gravity, gases will diffuse homogeneously, and lighter molecules will escape the gravitational field more easily. But this is not an entirely satisfactory explanation, since Earth is both farther away from the Sun than Venus, and has a stronger gravity, but its atmosphere is less dense than Venus.

      1. Thanks, that makes sense. The opinion that Earth would lose its atmosphere at the orbit of Venus is indeed erroneous. More from: http://earthguide.ucsd.edu/virtualmuseum/ita/09_2.shtml

        Finally, let us move Earth into the orbit of Venus. Holding on to the atmosphere would be no problem, from the point of view of gravity, since Venus has 81.5% of the mass of Earth. However, it would become quite unpleasantly hot, since we are now much closer to the sun (about 1.4 times closer). The entire atmosphere would rapidly turn into a steam bath. Thick clouds would form in the upper atmosphere where the vapor would condense. The Earth would turn white and reject much of the sunlight. However, the steamy atmosphere would also act like a thick thermal blanket. The sunlight which reaches the surface would keep heating it, evaporating ever more water and making the atmosphere ever less transparent to outgoing heat radiation. This type of heating — admitting sunlight but blocking back-radiation of heat till a certain temperature is reached — is the well-known “greenhouse effect”. In the orbit of Venus, the effect would be to keep heating the surface till the limestone rocks (which are made of calcium carbonate) would start disintegrating and give off carbon dioxide. Large amounts of this gas would now be added to the atmosphere. The result would be something like a wet Venus, perhaps not unlike a former state of that planet. Venus is in fact dry, presumably because the water it once had was split into hydrogen and oxygen, and the hydrogen has long since escaped into space.

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