J e p h r e y

Surface of Venus. Courtesy NASA 

Venusian Warming


I had the good fortunate to be at the European Space Organisation (ESO), this morning, when the Jeanne Baret probe landed on the surface of the planet Venus. The feeling in the control room was intense. Thanks to a surface temperature in excess of 1000°C and an sulphuric acid in the air, we knew the probe would last a few hours at best. So, there was not a lot of time to collect data.

A live video feed displayed on the big screen in the front of the room. At its side were a number of smaller screens showing data coming in.

I was sitting near Lisa Divine, project leader, as she watched over team operating with the precision of a Swiss watch.

“What's that at the edge of the screen?” she asked Ella who was operating the camera. “Move the camera a couple of degrees to the right. Good. That's better. Can you focus on that little silver thing, just in front of the castle?"

It took Lisa a second to realise the momentousness of what she had said.

"Holy shit,” she concluded.

For, indeed, on the screen was what looked like the  ruins of a castle. It had eroded considerably, but it certainly looked like a castle.

“Okay, let's get as much video as we can before we lose Ms Baret” Lisa said.

I suppose the castle could have been some kind of fluke, a collection of rocks that had somehow fallen together and eroded to look like the ruins of a castle. The human mind is programmed to find patterns and so is remarkably good at seeing things that are not there. It could have just been something that looked like a castle. But, as the probe's camera panned slowly around, we saw what was surely stone foundations and two buildings partially standing. We even identified what looked like traces of two intersecting roads.

The probe kept going for a little over four hours before it finally succumbed to the heat and corrosiveness of Venus's atmosphere. But, we kept staring at the screen long afterwards. It was mesmerising, evidence that the planet Venus once harboured intelligent, life that must have been at least similar to us; the ruins were reminiscent of Earth buildings.

What happened? Well, there will soon be a press conference to make the findings and the videos publicly available. From there, I expect the pundits will argue about what happened to the Venusians. Surely, all the space faring nations will rush to devise and launch new missions to Venus.

But, I reckon what has happened is obvious. I expect you've worked in out too. I believe the Venusians developed technology like ours. And that technology produced waste products like ours that polluted the atmosphere and led to global -- I guess I should say, 'Venusian' warming. And, they failed to stop it. Rather than warming their atmosphere by a few degrees, they warmed their atmosphere by 100s of degrees until the surface became hot enough to melt metal and the sky filled with sulphuric acid clouds.

Worse, no one could have survived on the planet. They wiped everyone out.

And I cannot help but wonder: did they have politicians who smugly denied Venusian warming even as their became unlivable? Did people refuse to give up life comforts even if it meant the end of life? What must it have been like to know not only that you were dying, but that your entire race and planet were dying?

Or did some escape? To Earth maybe? Mercury, the closest planet, would be too hot, making Earth the only viable option. But, if they came, it would have been thousands of years ago, if not millions. They are clearly long gone.

Will we humans follow in their footsteps?




© 2018 Jeffrey Baumgartner