Computer simulation suggests ancient Venus had a small ocean

A cooler climate and sufficient cloud cover may have made it possible for the planet to host liquid water.
By Laurel Kornfeld | Aug 03, 2017
A computer simulation run by a group of scientists at Universite Paris-Saclay re-created conditions on ancient Venus and determined the planet may once have had a small, thin ocean.

Currently the hottest planet in the solar system, Venus has temperatures close to 900 degrees Fahrenheit and a crushing carbon dioxide atmosphere, making it extremely hostile to life.

But previous computer models designed to study climate change on Earth have suggested Venus was once Earth-like but subsequently lost its water when ultraviolet rays from the Sun broke apart water molecules.

That process resulted in hydrogen escaping into space and a buildup of atmospheric carbon dioxide, causing a runaway greenhouse effect.

The French research team inputted a significant amount of data into the latest simulation, including Venus' rotational period of 116 Earth days, heat received from the Sun, carbon dioxide levels, the amount of water estimated to have been on the planet, and various theories about planet formation.

Rocky planets were likely very hot in their early lives due to the high levels of energy through which they formed. Over time, these planets gradually cooled.

These processes were incorporated into the simulation to determine how Venus evolved as it cooled.

Significantly cooler than it is today, ancient Venus could have supported liquid water on its surface, the simulation found. With enough of a cloud cover, it would have needed just 30 percent of the mass of Earth's oceans to form a shallow ocean of its own.

The simulation was run several times using a variety of parameters.

Several spacecraft landed on Venus during the 1970s and 1980s through the former Soviet Union's Venera program, but none lasted long enough or had the capability to dig beneath the surface to search for traces of water.

Without an actual study of the planet's surface composition, the computer models do not constitute proof of it having had an ocean; they only suggest one could have existed, the researchers acknowledge.

Findings of their study have been published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets.

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