Visiting Venus - Facts for Kids
Venus is about the same size and mass as the Earth, and the two planets have a similar history. Since Venus is smaller than Earth and its gravity weaker, you might think people would feel a bit lighter.
But you wouldn't really feel lighter on Venus.
When we look at the evening sky, Venus is one of the brightest objects we can see. Yet its dazzling beauty is a killer. Venus is bright because its clouds reflect sunlight. But an atmosphere has weight. You walk around on Earth with a tonne of air pressing down on you. Your body can support this pressure without your even noticing. But what if you had over ninety tonnes – as on Venus – pushing down on you? Squish!
Sunrise to sunset on Venus takes 117 Earth days.
Earth rotates on its axis in the same direction as it orbits the Sun. That's from west to east, so the Sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Venus doesn't. Venus rotates on its axis in the opposite direction. and very slowly. If you could see the Sun from the surface of Venus, you would see it take 117 Earth days to rise in the west and set in the east.
Why couldn't you see the sunrise and sunset?
On a nice day we can see the Sun as a disk in a blue sky. On Venus, the thick clouds let some sunlight through, but you couldn't see the Sun as a disk. Would you mind never seeing the Sun? And how about the stars? You couldn't see those on Venus either. There wouldn't be any astronomy there.
Since Venus has an atmosphere, would we be able to breathe there?
Mars has an atmosphere, but it's too thin to breathe, and it's mostly carbon dioxide. Venus has plenty of atmosphere, but it's also almost all carbon dioxide. In addition, there's enough sulfur dioxide to make the sky look yellow and to make sulfuric acid rain high in the atmosphere.
But at least Venus would be nice and warm, wouldn't it?
Warm – yes. Nice – no. Venus is hotter than Mercury, even though Mercury is closer to the Sun. The carbon dioxide clouds of Venus act like a blanket to keep the heat in. The coolest place on Venus would be the mountains of Maxwell Montes. But have you ever heard someone complain about a hot room, saying “It's like an oven in here”? On Maxwell Montes the temperature would be 380°C (716°F). Phew! Even a pizza oven isn't that hot. And the average temperature on Venus is 460°C (860°F) That's hot enough to melt some metals.
NASA wants to send astronauts to Mars, not Venus.
You might wonder why anyone would think visiting Venus is a good idea. A NASA research group discussed the possibility, and agreed that the surface of Venus is too hostile. However they also said that the “most earthlike environment in the solar system” exists about 50 km (30 mi) up into the atmosphere.
What would it be like up there?
At 50 km the air pressure is about the same as on Earth and the temperature range is around 0-50°C. Above the clouds solar energy is plentiful, unlike on distant Mars. With air pressure about the same as on Earth, people could enjoy the weaker gravity.
Venus vs Mars
The research group says that people could live in habitats similar to helium airships on Earth. Helium is lighter than air on Earth, so it floats. On Venus, the thicker atmosphere on Venus would give even more support to such airships.
The abundant sunlight could power the airships and provide electricity for other purposes.
A danger on Mars is that its thin atmosphere gives no protection against dangerous cosmic and solar radiation. Earth's atmosphere protects us and the Venusian atmosphere would also do that. On Mars people would probably have to live underground.
Venus is closer to Earth than Mars.
After the Moon, Venus is our nearest neighbor in space. The distance between Earth and other planets depends on where they are in their orbits. However Venus is usually closer to us than Mars. For exploration, you could make a round-trip with a month's stay at Venus in 440 days. Such a mission to Mars would take at least two months longer than that.
I will be quite happy to stay on Earth. But maybe one day there will be floating cities on Venus. What do you think?
Geoffrey A. Landis, “Colonization of Venus” (2003) https://ntrs.nasa.gov/search.jsp?R=20030022668
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