Venus Provides Global Warming Data

Posted on December 30, 2010 by

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Global warming has been an issue in the media for as long as any student in the high school can remember. But Earth’s sister planet, Venus, may contain the key to help keep this planet cool. 

And we have a scientific solar radiation malfunction to thank!

Venus is covered in sulfuric acid clouds that block our view of the surface. These clouds form at altitudes of fifty to seventy kilometers above the surface, where sulfur dioxide from volcanoes combines with water vapor to make sulfuric acid. The remaining acidic particles are destroyed immediately by the intense solar radiation above seventy kilometers.

The fact that there is a layer of sulfuric acid at ninety to hundred-and-ten kilometers above the surface of Venus was a complete mystery to ESA’s Venus Express orbiter in 2008. However, computer simulations by Xi Zhang at the California Institute of Technology show that sulfuric acid is broken apart by sunlight, releasing sulfur dioxide gas.

“The new findings also mean that the atmospheric sulfur cycle is more complicated than we thought,” says Zhang.

This discovery is also adding to our knowledge of Venus, and may be a warning to mankind that trying to change the climate on Earth is not as straightforward as originally thought.

Previously, Nobel prize winner Paul Crutzen had suggested artificially injecting large quantities of sulfur dioxide into the Earth’s atmosphere at around twenty kilometers to reverse the global warming from increased greenhouse gases.  In 1991, a particular eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines that shot sulfur dioxide into the Earth’s atmosphere—much like what happens with Venus’s clouds—spread the chemical around the entire globe. These droplets created a layer of haze that reflected some of the Sun’s rays back into space and thereby cooled the entire world by 0.5°C.

On the contrary, the new discoveries on Venus suggest that the evaporation of sulfuric acid as an attempt to cool our planet may not be as successful as we thought. Scientists simply do not know how quickly the protective haze over earth will be converted back into gaseous sulfuric acid.

The good news is that nature is doing the experiment on Venus so that scientists can utilize the results here on Earth.

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