We Only Need To Look At Our Runaway Greenhouse Neighbors To See Where Earth Is Headed

As some Americans contend with a continuing debate over whether climate change exists at all, some scientists are pointing out that we need only look to our nearest neighbors for evidence of where climate change eventually leads. For example, even without human activity, the second planet from the Sun faced a natural climate change that may have eliminated life or ancient alien civilizations from its now inhospitable hellish surface.

Science journalist and contributor to Forbes, Bruce Dorminey explains how Venus faced a climate catastrophe similar to what Earth may be facing now. No pesky human interference necessary. Venus became the hottest planet in the solar system, even hotter than Mercury, but why?

The habitable zone is moving outward.

“As stars age, their luminosity increases over billions of years, causing their habitable zones — the zones in which a terrestrial planet can have liquid water at its surface — to expand outward. Thus, extraterrestrial intelligence that happened to evolve on planets at the inner edges of their solar systems’ habitable zones might initially blossom into technological civilizations. But as their star’s luminosity increases over time, their planet would suffer a hellish, climatological holocaust.”

Planets nearest to stars would become habitable if water in a liquid state was present, but as those stars started to increase in luminosity, the atmosphere of the planet would change. Eventually, global warming caused in part by the rise of steam and gasses would render life impossible and the planet would transform into a totally different apocalyptic scene of ruin. Unless alien civilizations were able to relocate to another planet, they became galactic toast.

” The galaxy may be littered with dead aliens blindsided by natural climate change,” wrote Dorminey.

Once upon a time, Venus may have had oceans and plate tectonics like the Earth. However, natural climate change from the sun evaporated the water into steam and a “stagnant lid” formed on the planet. Instead of shifting plates, Venus now has a solid surface ruptured by areas of volcanism. One day, our own blue planet could have its own stagnant crust, and it doesn’t help that humans seem to be intent on speeding up the process on their own.

Professor Lynn Rothschild of the NASA Ames Research Center, explains that Venus was very much like Earth in the distant past.

“So here was this beautiful water world, not too dissimilar to maybe what the earth is like today. There was liquid water and reasonable atmospheric pressure, and organic compounds. There’s no reason that there shouldn’t have been life,” said Rothschild.

Looking at Venus, scientists can develop models and simulations that predict more precisely what will happen on other planets like our own. Thanks to our neighboring planet, the physics and dynamics involved can be better understood in order to predict how fast the planets in general can become environmentally-hostile. Of course, that doesn’t take into account what the lifeforms on the planet may be doing to speed things up.

NASA’s TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) mission has begun looking for exoplanets, with a bias towards planets closer to their stars like Venus. NASA announced the discovery of the first exoplanet, called Pi Men c, with the telescope in September. The planet is 2.14 times Earth’s radius and orbits its star every 6.27 days.

Another exoplanet, Kepler-1659b, is 219 light years from Earth, orbiting a cooler Red Dwarf star. The exoplanet may have been habitable at one time, but not anymore. Stephen Kane, an astrobiologist at the University of California at Riverside, studies the runaway greenhouse effect on Kepler-1659b.

He wants to understand how often planets undergo a transformation from habitable to hell.

“All of our simulations showed a quick temperature rise and transfer of the liquid water oceans into the atmosphere, thus it is very likely a runaway greenhouse like Venus,” said Kane.

Kane believes that studying the climate of Venus and exoplanets will teach us valuable information about what’s about to happen on Earth.

“Detailed in Venus’ own history and its analogs elsewhere, is the story of a habitable planet that has diverged into a completely uninhabitable environment, says Kane. Thus, Venus not only represents the future of Earth and other habitable planets, he says, but remains the key to unlocking the techniques that are used to infer the surface conditions of extrasolar planets that we will never be able to visit.”

We know that a billion years ago, Venus faced a catastrophic event that changed the surface of the planet forever. If any life existed, much less alien civilizations, they would not have been able to turn around global warming by reducing their own fossil fuel emissions. They would have needed to either leave the planet or take on a global geoengineering effort to remove and store carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere until they could leave.

In the case of Earth, we have the option to reduce our emissions and to move to clean energy before we find ourselves facing a climate disaster similar to our sister planet, Venus. Either that or Earthlings may soon find themselves facing a future exactly like ancient Venusians. Can we learn quickly enough from Venus’ past to prevent another stagnant lifeless planet here?

For more, see the video from the Science Channel below:

Featured image: Screenshot via YouTube




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