Why is Venus Drying Up Faster Than Previously Believed?

By Lydia Amazouz Published on May 7, 2024 16:40
Planet Venus

Venus, also referred to as Earth's twin, has the same size and source material as Earth. Despite its similar size and mass, Venus contains 100,000 times less water than Earth.

Unravelling Venus: Insights into the Mystery of Its Desert Transformation

Planetary scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder used computer models to shed light on Venus' water cycle and determine why it became so dry.

According to computer simulations, Venus loses nearly twice as much water each day as previously assumed due to “dissociative recombination,” which causes hydrogen atoms in the planet's atmosphere to fly into space.

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The computer simulations that scientists utilised provide a better understanding of Venus as a massive chemistry laboratory. They focus on the many reactions that occur in the planet's spinning atmosphere.

According to the researchers, Venus's escaping water could be generated by an ion called HCO+, which is made up of one hydrogen atom, one carbon atom, and one oxygen atom and is found high in the planet's atmosphere.

Cangi, the study's co-lead author, believes the findings shed new light on why Venus, which originally looked nearly identical to Earth, is now practically unrecognisable.

“We’re trying to figure out what little changes occurred on each planet to drive them into these vastly different states.”

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“Venus wasn’t always such a desert.”

What's the Role of HCO+ in Venus' Water Loss?

Scientists believe that billions of years ago, during Venus' creation, the planet received an equal amount of water as Earth. But something went wrong. Venus' atmosphere was packed with thick clouds of carbon dioxide, resulting in the most extreme greenhouse effect in our solar system.

Consequently, surface temperatures rose to a blistering 900 °F. Venus' water evaporated, transforming into steam and escaping into space.

However, ancient evaporation is required to understand the real reasons behind Venus' drought or how it continually leaks water out into space.

Michael Chaffin, co-lead author of the report and a research scientist at LASP, stated: “As an analogy, say I dumped out the water in my water bottle. There would still be a few droplets left. On Venus, however, almost all of those remaining drops also disappeared. The culprit, according to the new work, is elusive HCO+.”

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When water and carbon dioxide react in the upper atmospheres of planets, HCO+ is generated. According to a previous study, the molecule may be accountable for Mars losing a significant amount of water.

So here's how things work on Venus: HCO+ is constantly generated in the atmosphere, however the individual ions do not persist long. This means that electrons in the atmosphere collide with these ions, leading them to split in two. What comes next is that Hydrogen atoms speed away, and some are even released into space, leaving Venus devoid of one of the essential components for water.

In the most recent study, scientists performed calculations and determined that the sole approach to explain Venus' dry state is if the planet has significantly more HCO+ in its atmosphere than previously assumed. But here's when things become interesting: no one has observed HCO+ near Venus. Why? As stated by Chaffin and Cangi, we never have the required tools to search for it.

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“One of the surprising conclusions of this work is that HCO+ should be among the most abundant ions in the Venus atmosphere,” Chaffin declared.


An editor specializing in astronomy and space industry, passionate about uncovering the mysteries of the universe and the technological advances that propel space exploration.

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