Earth’s evil twin: What stripped Venus of water, and now oxygen, carbon


According to a study published in Nature Astronomy journal, the Mercury-bound BepiColombo spacecraft performed its second fly-by of Venus on August 10, 2021. The fleeting visit of the ESA/JAXA mission “provided a short-lived observation of its induced magnetosphere“.

What is induced magnetosphere: Unlike Earth, Venus does not generate an magnetic field in its core. The planet is rather surrounded by “a weak, comet-shaped induced magnetosphere”, explained in a report. 

This magnetosphere is created around the planet “by the interaction of charged particles emitted by sun (the solar wind) with electrically charged particles in Venus’s upper atmosphere. “Draped around the magnetosphere is a region called the ‘magnetosheath’ where the solar wind is slowed and heated,” it explained further.

What the study revealed?

As per a report in, the “detections in a previously unexplored region of Venus’s magnetic environment” show that carbon and oxygen are travelling at such accelerated speeds that “they can escape the planet’s gravitational pull”.

The research noted that most of the heavy ions in Venus’s ionosphere are cold and slow moving. “This is the first time that positively charged carbon ions have been observed escaping from Venus’s atmosphere,” said Lina Hadid, CNRS researcher at the Plasma Physics Laboratory (LPP) and lead author of the study.

“These are heavy ions that are usually slow moving, so we are still trying to understand the mechanisms that are at play. It may be that an electrostatic ‘wind’ is lifting them away from the planet, or they could be accelerated through centrifugal processes,” Hadid was quoted as saying.

Why is this new study important?

The researchers said in their study that these results have important implications regarding the evolution of Venus’s atmosphere and, in particular, the evolution of water on the surface of the planet.

Dominique Delcourt, researcher at LPP and the Principal Investigator of the MSA instrument, was quoted by as saying, “Characterising the loss of heavy ions and understanding the escape mechanisms at Venus is crucial to understand how the planet’s atmosphere has evolved and how it has lost all its water.”

Besides, the European Space Agency (ESA) says, “There is no human activity on Venus, but studying its atmosphere provides a natural laboratory to better understand a runaway greenhouse effect.”

Venus once had ‘oceans like Earth’

The European Space Agency and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration have time and again explained how the Venus lost all its water on the surface.

According to the space agencies, Venus, at some point in its history, began trapping too much heat.

“It was once thought to host oceans like Earth, but the added heat turned water into steam, and in turn, additional water vapour in the atmosphere trapped more and more heat until entire oceans completely evaporated. Water vapour is still escaping from Venus’ atmosphere and into space today,” the ESA said.

Meanwhile, NASA explained that a “runaway greenhouse effect” turned all surface water into vapor, which then leaked slowly into space.

“The present-day surface of volcanic rock is blasted by high temperatures and pressures. Asked if the surface of Venus is likely to be life-bearing today, we can give a quick answer: a hard “no”,” NASA explained.

Impact in Earth?

The ESA says that in the very long term – billions of years into the future – a ‘greenhouse Earth’ is an inevitable outcome at the hands of the aging Sun.

Our once life-giving star will eventually swell and brighten, injecting enough heat into Earth’s delicate system that it will eventually become Venus’ true twin,” the ESA said.

Venus — Earth’s evil twin

Venus is known as Earth’s “evil twin” as the two planets are similar in many way but also opposite in some aspects. The NASA says that in some ways, Venus is more an opposite of Earth than a twin.

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Published: 13 Apr 2024, 03:02 PM IST


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