New mission to Venus: where did it all go wrong? 2019-06-10T18:36:45+01:00

New mission to Venus in 2029

Never mind whether there’s life on Mars – if the great David Bowie was still with us today, he’d be asking about Venus.

Until recently, the accepted scientific wisdom was that the planet is geologically dead – meaning it isn’t physically changing – and possibly had been since a series of volcanic eruptions hundreds of millions of years ago. But after new research uncovered signs of ongoing volcanic and tectonic activity, scientists are wondering whether there’s more going on on Venus than had previously been thought.

The i called EnVision, to investigate further its geological activity, structure and history using radar. In their submission to the agency, the scientists proposing EnVision wrote: “Venus should be the most Earth-like of all our planetary neighbours: its size, composition and distance from the Sun are very similar to those of Earth. Its original atmosphere was probably similar to that of early Earth, with abundant water that would have been liquid under the young sun’s fainter output.

“Even today, with its global cloud cover, the surface of Venus receives less solar energy than does Earth, so why did a moderate climate ensue here but a catastrophic runaway greenhouse on Venus? How and why did it all go wrong for Venus?”

To say that things went wrong is something of an understatement. The surface temperature of Venus is 500°C. The atmospheric pressure is so high it would crush you; the atmosphere itself is mainly carbon dioxide, and the planet is completely covered with clouds of sulphuric acid. The EnVision website’s description of it as ‘a complex, dynamic planet’ seems a fair one.

But, as the scientists state above, there are similarities. Soviet Union missions to Venus analysed rock samples and found that they were basalts similar to those on Earth. There are similar signs of tectonic activity – like mountains, volcanoes and faults – but Venus is thought not to have plate tectonics – the shifting and recycling of the plates of the Earth’s crust.

“Venus and Earth probably started out as twins, but they’ve diverged,” explained Dr Richard Ghail, a reader in the Department of Earth Sciences at Royal Holloway University of London and EnVision’s lead scientist. “The Earth has gained oxygen and life and has essentially quite a cold climate, whereas Venus has got hotter and drier over a long period.”

The scientists hope the knowledge gained will help us understand not just Venus, but our own planet and others like it, both in the solar system and potentially further afield; how the solar system works; and the conditions under which planets are formed and life can emerge. If, long ago, Venus had water and maybe even the right conditions for life, it begs the question: could Earth end up going the same way?

You don’t have to be setting up camp on Venus to be eligible for government funding through the research and development tax credit scheme. Companies whose work involves scientific, technological or medical research can apply to the scheme, which gives you some of your tax back to help you cover your costs. At R&D Tax Solutions, we specialise in helping companies make successful claims. Have a look at our research and development tax relief examples and R&D tax credits calculator to see how much you could be eligible for – and call us on 0161 298 1010 to see how we can help.

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