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Venus was once a cloud-covered ocean world, new evidence suggests

Published Aug 2nd, 2017 9:02PM EDT
Image: NASA

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Today, Venus is a sweltering, desolate wasteland with temperatures topping 800 degrees Fahrenheit. If you were searching for liquid water anywhere in our Solar System it would be one of the last places you’d think to look, but new research indicates that liquid water may have existed on the planet’s surface, and a whole lot of it.

The research, which was carried out by a group of scientists at the University of Paris-Saclay, used computer models to simulate how Venus may have evolved under various conditions.

Thanks to the planet’s extremely low speed of rotation — roughly 116 times slower than Earth — combined with the adequate amount of carbon dioxide that exists on the planet today, the models revealed that Venus could have once hosted a vast, shallow ocean. The only catch? A thick layer of clouds would have been needed to sufficiently cool the planet’s surface in order for the ocean to have existed.

This new research builds upon past data and models on how rocky planets initially form — with extreme heat and tectonic activity — and then what eventually happens as they begin to cool. Like Earth, Venus is assumed to have formed in a similar way, and the simulations suggest that Venus would only have needed about 30 percent of the water of Earth’s oceans to have been largely covered in a thin oceanic layer of its own.

To be clear, the researchers aren’t throwing all their chips on this theory, and are merely suggesting that it would have been possible for our planetary neighbor to have supported liquid water under a cloudy sky. We don’t know enough about what is under the surface of Venus to make a more educated guess, but if a proposed Venus mission by the Russian space program for 2024 actually gets off the ground, we may not have to wait long to find out.