Friday, 10 October 2014

10/10/14 - Why you can't live on Venus

JuicyPips has tackled many deep, complex and meaningful issues over the years – which religion is correct, whether exams matter, what you can learn from working in a supermarket. It’s a public service I’m offering, really. (You’d know that if you’d read this rubbish book, or this one.)
So, continuing this ineffably helpful tradition, the theme for this week’s JuicyPips is: Why You Can’t Live on Venus.
People are always banging on about Mars and how exciting it is to explore. Maybe there was water there. Maybe the invaders of myriad sixties B-movies came from there. Blah blah. But what about poor old Venus? Earth’s neighbour on the other side is roughly the same size as our own planet, and is a bit closer to the sun – so surely that’d mean we could just transplant everything from here to there, and enjoy some hotter summers and less savage winters, right?
Er, sadly, no. Whereas the average surface temperature on Earth is 14 degrees centigrade, the average on Venus is 462 degrees. That’s quite high, and you’d probably spend all your time tip-toeing about at speed and wincing, like you do on a hot beach. (No, of course you wouldn’t – you’d die immediately from the heat, all the fluids in your body would just boil away.) There are a few other good reasons why you can’t live there – I know you’re always talking about moving there, how you think you’re a maverick to be considering Venus instead of Mars, but you’re being an idiot.

It’s really hard to get there
Venus is actually a lot closer to Earth than Mars is – about half the distance, in fact. So all of the hurdles that have presented themselves around getting probes to Mars (largely around fuel – you get into a vicious cycle where for every unit of fuel you load on board, you’re carrying more weight and thus need to load on yet more fuel to carry it [although this is really only a problem for the first bit of the journey, as you’re burning fuel off all the time {it’s the launch that’s the really tricky bit}]) are diminished somewhat in terms of distance. The heat is the problem. Flying closer to the sun does dangerous, burny things. And you certainly wouldn’t be able to land - we just haven’t developed the heatproofing to allow flight within the simmering Venusian airspace. Your craft would be on fire for the entire time you were flying over the planet, which wouldn’t be very long, as it would quickly disintegrate. But you wouldn’t know about that, as you’d have died long before.

The atmosphere is full of sulphuric acid
Shit, yeah – that’s a tricky one. Sulphuric acid is highly corrosive, and happily carves its way through flesh, metal and rock like a hot knife through, er, burning flesh. If you had a thick wetsuit and airtight breathing apparatus then you could probably float around a bit, provided that you somehow stayed about 35 miles above the surface, but that’d soon all melt away and the acid would blind you and eat your skin. But again, that might not be your biggest problem, given that you’d be on fire.

The surface is constantly plagued by hurricane-force winds
Let’s say you somehow managed to make it onto the surface of Venus and tried to walk about a bit. You’d have a really hard time. The howling, swirling gales wouldn’t just have you bent double, they’d be lifting you off the ground, slamming you back down, choking the air from your lungs…

…oh yeah, and there’s no oxygen
Humans have evolved to breathe oxygen. You know this. It works on Earth because there are plenty of happily photosynthesising green things strewn about the place, sucking in carbon dioxide and pumping out oodles of delicious oxygen.
How many Earth-y plants do you think there are growing on Venus?
That’s right, fuck all.
The atmosphere is extremely dense, and composed largely of carbon dioxide - if you want to breathe on Venus, you’d better bring a shitload of trees with you. And find some way to stop them catching fire.

It’d cost a bloody fortune
Imagine trying to explain it to your bank manager. ‘Sorry, you want to go where…?’

What would you eat?
You really haven’t thought this through. There’s no way you can grow any kind of crops on Venus, and it’s not like you can get fucking Ocado to pop round. What are you going to do, carry a lifetime’s supply of Pot Noodles on your spacecraft? You haven’t got enough fuel to carry it, you fucking chump.
Also, there’s nothing to drink – fluids immediately boil, and the planet has no magnetic field so all the hydrogen molecules get swept away into interplanetary space by solar winds, so the steam won’t even fall back down as rain. You can’t make water, even if you had some way to stop it disappearing. It’s hopeless.

The crushing loneliness would destroy you
There aren’t any humans on Venus, and nobody would be stupid enough to go with you. Some fairly simple calculations about radio waves, the speed of sound/light, how transmissions travel in a vacuum and what-have-you suggest that you’d have no contact whatsoever with Earth, unless you can convince NASA to divert their entire budget to your madcap removals project. (Or, y’know, try to fund it with Kickstarter or something.)
You’d have no access to the mass media, although arguably you might not be that interested in what the Kardashians are up to if you’re being whipped about by boiling winds and choking on corrosive acid. And when you take your phone out to tweet ‘I’m starting to regret this, it’s really inhospitable here #itburns’, it’d immediately catch fire before you got to type anything. And you wouldn’t have any signal.
Let’s pretend that you were somehow able to make yourself immortal: you’d go totally insane. Think of the Buddhist hell of Arbuda - a frozen plain swept by blizzards, in which one must exist naked and alone for the amount of time it would take to empty a barrel of sesame seeds if you were to remove a single seed every hundred years. Swap ‘frozen’ and ‘blizzards’ for ‘really fucking hot and windy’. Sounds ghastly. Or consider this quote from Hendrik Willem van Loon’s Story of Mankind: ‘High in the north in a land called Svithjod there is a mountain. It is a hundred miles long and a hundred miles high, and once every thousand years a little bird comes to this mountain to sharpen its beak. When the mountain has thus been worn away, a single day of eternity will have passed.’
Spending all that time with just the voice in your head for company? That doesn’t sound like any fun at all.

Seriously, Venus is really nasty. You don’t want to live there, give it up.

No comments:

Post a Comment