The Surface & Atmosphere on Venus

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  • 0:01 The Planet Venus
  • 0:38 The Atmosphere of Venus
  • 2:58 The Surface of Venus
  • 4:10 The Subsurface of Venus
  • 5:43 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson will discuss the terrible atmosphere located on Venus, as well as its surface features and how the planet differs from Earth's geologic processes.

The Planet Venus

The beautiful goddess of love - Venus; her roles encompass love and beauty and yet, she is so different from her planetary namesake, the planet Venus, the second planet from the sun. More than 20 U.S. and Soviet spacecraft have been sent to this planet, so, thankfully, we have a lot of data that is available for our interpretation of its realities. Data that will, in just a little bit, reveal how horrific the planet actually is. It's much closer to the wraths of Hades than it is to the common depictions of the heavenly goddess Venus.

The Atmosphere of Venus

The atmosphere of Venus will shed light on why this planet is so scary. The air is terribly hot, unbreathable, and the atmosphere is 90 times denser than on Earth. You cannot survive there with any modern spacesuit. Lovely. But, here's a cool fact: if you did wear a really advanced spacesuit that would let you survive these hot and crushing conditions, you could theoretically put some wings on your arms and fly around on Venus precisely because its atmosphere is so dense. You'd no longer have to only believe you could fly and touch the sky - you could actually be doing it!

But the advanced wing suit would have to also deal with the surface temperatures on Venus, which can reach 900 degrees Fahrenheit, which is about 482 degrees Celsius. This temperature is so hot it can even melt lead! The reason it gets so hot is mainly because its atmosphere is made up of about 96% carbon dioxide and this carbon dioxide, alongside some water vapor in the planet's clouds, contributes to Venus' extreme greenhouse effect, a process whereby greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, like carbon dioxide, trap heat and raise a planet's temperature.

The greenhouse effect is easy to understand. Hopefully, you've been inside a greenhouse before. The greenhouses gases are like the glass panels of the greenhouse. They let light into the planet, which warms the surface. However, the heat radiated out from the surface cannot escape back into space very easily because the atmosphere's composition, like glass, makes it opaque to infrared radiation. This is what causes a greenhouse to be so hot!

The rest of the atmosphere on Venus isn't very pretty, either. It's made up of smelly and dangerous chemicals like nitrogen, sulfur dioxide, sulfuric acid, hydrofluoric acid, argon, and hydrochloric acid, the latter of which is like your stomach acid! The sulfuric acid is what scientists believe helps give Venus' clouds their yellow color. These clouds are about 12 miles thick and are about 40 miles above the planet's surface.

The Surface of Venus

Soviet spacecraft, called Venera (Russian for Venus), landed through these clouds and onto the surface of the planet to take pictures. They all 'died' very quickly due to the terrible conditions on the planet. But the pictures did reveal that the planet's rocks and soil appear to be orange beneath these clouds when they are actually gray under direct sunlight.

Because of the thick clouds, we can't take normal pictures of the surface of Venus unless we land on it for long enough. And, as you know, due to the crushing atmospheric pressure on Venus and its hot temperature, that's kind of hard to do. Thus, the U.S. orbiter Magellan and Soviet spacecraft mapped most of the planet using radar instead, which can pass through Venus' clouds.

The images revealed that all of the planet's terrain is rocky and dry, with no evidence of anything like oceans or lakes, meaning there is no liquid water on Venus. Most of the planet, about 80%, is pretty flat, with volcanoes, highlands, fractures, and impact craters located on it as well.

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