Cogito Patris

Random Thoughts for Random People

Human-kind’s Lifeboat

Venus

I have been writing this post for 5 years now (I know, I have only been blogging a couple of months, but I had this idea 5 years ago).

I have come to six conclusions over the past 30 years.

  1.  Human ingenuity is directly related to frontier living
  2. We are out of “frontier” on this planet (as a result ingenuity is coming to a stand-still)
  3. Overpopulation is a serious issue for the human race
  4. Genocide is wrong (some may call it Euthanasia*)
  5. “Planned Parenthood” on a global scale may be beyond human capabilities (putting aside the possible morality issues).
  6. The closer people are to each other, the more conflict that will arise (e.g. Gangs, the Middle East)

* When I was a teenager I wondered why people were so concerned about “Youth in Asia”. I figured “The Establishment” simply didn’t like “Youth” in general.

Given these conclusions I decided to start determining a solution. The solution I have come up with is “Venus

If you follow my logic that the only new frontier are the planets that are “near” Earth, then you may be asking “Why not Mars?” The answer stems from conclusion 6 above. The chemical make-up of Mars is such that the only way to create a human habitat would be to create domes. That would put the potential inhabitants of Mars in close proximity.

Warning – Science Nerd Speak ahead.

I am a science nerd, but I am not a scientist. I have the basic understanding of chemistry and physics that comes from a general science major (technically it was Integrated Science and Technology).

With that caveat, let me explain how I think we could (even at out current level of technology) terraform Venus.

First, let me provide a few facts on the chemical and physical make-up of Venus compared to our beloved Earth:

Venus:

  • Orbit: 108,200,000 km (0.72 AU) from Sun
  • Diameter: 12,103.6 km
  • Mass: 4.869e24 kg
  • Atmosphere:
    • Nitrogen 3.5%
    • Carbon Dioxide 96.5%
    • Minute Traces of:
      • Sulfur Dioxide (a component of Sulfuric Acid)
      • Argon
      • Water Vapor
      • Carbon monoxide
      • Helium
      • Neon
  • Atmospheric Pressure: 90 ATMs (90 times Earth’s Atmospheric Pressure)
  • Mean Surface Temperature: 482 degrees C

Earth:

  • Orbit: 149,600,000 km (1.00 AU) from Sun
  • Diameter: 12,756.3 km
  • Mass: 5.972e24 kg
  • Atmosphere:
    • Nitrogen 79%
    • Oxygen 20%
    • Argon 1%
    • Carbon Dioxide 0.03%
    • H2O 2%
  • Atmospheric Pressure: 1 ATM
  • Mean Surface Temperature: Approximately 22 degrees C

The big issues I see when looking at these figures is that the temperature is high, there is no water to speak of, the air isn’t breathable and the atmospheric pressure is a tad high (slight understatement).

However, I see these issues as solvable. Let’s start with the atmosphere.

Oxygen/Nitrogen:

A vast majority of Venus’s atmosphere is Carbon Dioxide (CO2). A small electrical current will break the bond between the Carbon and the Oxygen creating breathable Oxygen. We can certainly build a machine…an Oxygen machine…that can do that. If we could convert 0.2% of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to Oxygen, then we would already be on our way.

You will notice that I have not accounted for the Nitrogen. The thing that you need to remember is that there is so much atmosphere (90 times that of Earth) that the amount of Nitrogen in the atmosphere is possibly enough. It is simply outnumbered. I haven’t done the calculation, so I am not sure of this, but I think if we just leave the Nitrogen alone, the appropriate balance will be realized (or at least pretty close).

Now comes the really fun part.

The Atmospheric Pressure:

However, we would need to lower the atmospheric pressure drastically. How? The answer will actually solve two other problems from my list above. The answer is “Water”.

Water is Hydrogen Dioxide (H2O). We have plenty of O2 in the atmosphere trapped in CO2. We could create a second machine…the Water Machine…that would not only separate the Oxygen, but would combine the Oxygen with Hydrogen to create water.

If you are thinking there is a catch here, then you are right. Hydrogen is the most common element in the universe, but I didn’t mention any in the chemical composition of Venus, because there isn’t any there.  The Hydrogen escaped the planet’s gravity due to the element’s low mass.

This is a problem, but not a show stopper. Hydrogen is the most basic element there can be. It is simply a single proton. Have you ever wondered what is involved in a nuclear reaction? (Don’t lie, I know you have). A single proton is literally fired at the nucleus of an atom. The impact separates a single proton from the nucleus and releases a great deal of energy, leaving two single protons and a larger element. Although the process usually utilizes an atom with a large unstable nucleus like Uranium, the process can be done on any atom (it just costs more in energy than you get back).

So, what I am proposing is that this “Water Machine” be three fold:

  1. A nuclear reactor where Carbon is converted (one proton at a time) to hydrogen
  2. An electrical current that separates the CO2 in to it’s component parts and moves the carbon in to the nuclear reactor.
  3. A chemical reactor where the Hydrogen is combined with Oxygen to make water.

When enough of the atmosphere has been converted to water, then the water will condense and literally create a Venetian ocean. The atmosphere will become less dense and the atmospheric pressure will reduce. The less carbon dioxide there is in the atmosphere the lower the greenhouse effect and the cooler the surface temperature…oh yeah, and there would be some water for future inhabitants to drink.

So, there you have it, two types of machines that we can build at our current level of technology that could transform a whole planet in to a new home for humanity…a new frontier where new ideas can be evaluated and realized. An untouched paradise…no indigenous people to push off land and no new diseases to encounter.  And no “Holy Lands” to fight over. And because of the lower gravity (91% of Earth’s) I might be able to dunk a basketball.

Now for the cold water:
Before you start lobbying your congressman to get this project started I thought I would point out a few of my own issues with this theory.

  1. I don’t know if Venus has an Ozone layer. It is already closer to the sun than we are at Earth which means more solar radiation. We may need another machine that creates upper-atmosphere Ozone (O3). I am not sure how this could be done…although as I pointed out, there is plenty of oxygen in the atmosphere…it is simply trapped in the Carbon Dioxide.
  2. Because of the high atmospheric pressure and surface temperature the machines I have outlined above (including the third one that may be needed) could not land. The pressure on the surface is bearable…we have been 35800 ft below the surface of the ocean which is a much higher pressure than Venus could throw at us (over 1000 ATMs), but at 327.46 degrees C , Lead (Pb) melts. The surface temperature of Venus is 482 degrees C. We couldn’t make the machine out of any material know because that material would melt below the CO2 clouds in the atmosphere. One possible solution could be to have the machines “float” (or probably more accurately “fly”) above the clouds where it would be cooler (and the atmospheric pressure would be a lower.
  3. Cost. I am not sure how many of these theoretical machines we would need, but to terraform an entire planet I’m guessing we would need a lot (how many trees are there on planet Earth?). As you know, sending rockets in to orbit isn’t exactly cheap…sending these machines (which would probably be pretty heavy) to another planet might be too costly…especially considering we may need thousands of these buggers.
  4. Radiation. As I mentioned, we would need to utilize a nuclear reaction to create the hydrogen used to produce the water that both lowered the surface temperature and the atmospheric pressure. I am not sure, but I think that would leave all the water on the surface radioactive for at least 10 years (heavy water). I am not sure how that could be overcome.  Granted 10 yera wouldn’t be so bad especially considering the terraforming process would take a long-long time.
  5. Plants and Animals. At some point we will need to plant trees to take over oxygen production from the machines (the machines will break down eventually). Not to mention grains to eat. Trees require Nitrogen to grow (trust me). I don’t know if there is any Nitrogen in the soil, but the atmospheric Nitrogen doesn’t seem prolific enough to compensate if there isn’t. Also, we may need an animal population unless the whole planet wants to be vegans (as well as Venetians).
  6. Energy.  Each of these machines would need to operate for a long time.  We may be able to utilize the heat of Venus to help with the chemical reactions, but as Venus cools we would need another source.  Because it would be closer to the Sun, solor energy may be an option, but collecting solor energy is inefficient and would probably not provide enough energy for the machine to remain in the air (see comment 2 above)…much less go about the process of terraforming a planet.

As I mentioned above, I am not a scientist, but if any of you are PhD candidates in chemistry and want to do a thesis on this then I would LOVE to read it…even if your conclusion is “it isn’t possible”.

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October 26, 2006 - Posted by | Wild Theory

2 Comments »

  1. Very interesting! but the need to cool the planet down is paramount.
    The method needed might be simpler than antone’s imagined.

    Comment by mark DJ dowding | March 16, 2008 | Reply

  2. That is a good point. My thought was that if we could reduce the CO2 levels enough, then the temp would drop. The closer proximity to the sun might be a problem, but either a thicker ozone layer or a much lower concentration of CO2 should counteract it. At least in my opinion.

    Unfortunately I didn’t include one big problem. Venus doesn’t have tectonic plates. The internal pressure simply build until there is an explosive release…which re-releases CO2.

    Comment by m2morgan64 | March 16, 2008 | Reply


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