Ok, it’s time to take a fresh look at Venus and whether it might be habitable after all. NAA is happy to speculate on two ways humans could live on (or above) Venus. The first of these ways is the CLOUD CITY method of life on Venus and this is becoming the standard model that you will find when researching this topic. The second way involves cooling the planet so that all the nasty CO2 will fall from the sky like snow. Both methods rely on the same principles, so here we go.
METHOD 1 – LIVING IN A CLOUD CITY
This is the easiest one by far and would be really cool. As you know, the surface of Venus is a toasty 462 degrees centigrade(864 degrees Fahrenheit.) Whoa … that is really hot. Hot enough to melt lead. Living on the surface is just not going to happen with things as they are. Even the probes we have sent have failed to stay intact on the planet for more than a few minutes … because they melted.
However, just like Earth, as you go higher, it gets cooler. With an atmospheric pressure that is 90 times that of Earth, the surface is scaldingly hot because of the extreme pressure. But if you go to 1000 millibars of pressure (Earth’s land pressure) you will not only have just the right pressure, you will also have just about the right temperature (about 17 % hotter per measurements by probe.) For an interesting discussion of the temperature of Venus, see the earlier blog post on the topic here.)
Even better, an Earth atmosphere of 78 % nitrogen and 21 % oxygen and the usual trace elements, including CO2, methane, etc. would “float on an atmosphere of CO2 (which is what comprises the Venusian atmosphere.) Just like a ship at sea where the displacement of water allows for buoyancy of metallic hulls, a cloud city comprised of a giant dome and a carbon nanotube floor, all filled with soils and water and an earth atmosphere could naturally cruise the skies of Venus like a schooner on a balmy day. OK, its more like a submarine whose buoyancy has been set to float at 1000 millibars of pressure .. but still you get the picture. (See artists rendering below and at the top of the post.)
Well how would this city be built you ask? The key here is a massive energy source (presumably Thorium reactors), robotic life forms as workers and plenty of CO2 (which Venus has in abundance). With energy, you could strip the carbon from CO2 and create graphite construction materials (or possible carbon nanotube construction materials and spin off plenty of oxygen as a by product. You would have to bring in the nitrogen and certain trace gases to create an earth like atmosphere in the sealed chamber that you would build. Add a little water and some crops and plants and viola you have a pleasant place to live.
There would be raging storms on occasion and radiation which would require a shield of some kind and atmosphere robbing asteroids and other nasty things, but it is possible to imagine a life on Venus high above the hell below. The wizard gives this about a 30% chance of happening within 100 years. Living underground on Mars gets a 50% probability of happening within 100 years. The reason the difference is so close is because Venus is closer than Mars and getting supplies to the Cloud Cities would be way easier than getting supplies to Mars. To See a video on the Cloud Cities model see below:
METHOD 2 – LIVING ON A TEMPERATURE CONTROLLED SURFACE
To live on the surface, you need to lower the atmospheric pressure (currently a crushing 90 times Earth’s) and lower the temperature … a lot. Well there is a far fetched way to do this that the wizard is happy to report. Recall your orbital physics and remember that there is a place between the Sun and Venus where an object could exist and remain in perpetual orbit between the two. It would be like a geosynchonos satellite and would never move from its strategic location. This is called a Lagrange orbit and here is a diagram showing you how that would work. The L1 position is where we would place our Venusian thermostat.
So we start with a work station in L1 orbit and a Cloud City floating as high a s possible above the surface of Venus to extract carbon construction materials. Both would need massive energy sources … presumably Thorium reactors to get started and lots of robotic workers. The CO2 in the Cloud Work Unit would make carbon structural components for the giant space shield that we would have to construct. These components would be built in a way that each unit could allow a little or a lot of light to pass. Then you simply start to build a bigger and bigger shield. Eventually you would start to shade more and more of the planets surface until the temperature started to cool. This would cause a massive CO2 snow storm and with each falling flake, the CO2 would leave the atmosphere. Eventually you would have an atmospheric pressure at the surface of 1000 millibars. By modulating the light that hits the planet, you could also have an Earth like temperature.
Is this a reduiculously massive engineering feat … oh yeah. BUT it is possible because it utilizes the materials of the planets itself to create the shield. With seed capital and robotic workers tirelessly building, you would eventually get your shade. Very little in the way of Earth materials would be needed after an initial phase.
Please note that even a partial shield would create shaded zones, hot zones and transitional zones which might be habitable by robotic people designed for the new surface conditions. Such creatures (as were discussed in the various Life on Mars posts) would be appropriate for their world and while it wouldn’t be Earth like, it might well be an interesting place to live for humans instantiated into their Venusian bodies. The wizard gives this plan about a 5% chance of happening in the next 1000 years. Ironically, any Cloud Cities that might be built would argue against a shield plan as the two ideas are mutually exclusive.
OK the wizard has taken wild speculation to new heights (literally). The Cloud Cities concept probably will happen eventually … but with artificial creatures leading the way. Colonizing the planet with a giant sun screen … probably never going to happen. The thing is however, who knows what creatures could accomplish if they never gave up … just kept at it, creating structures from the carbon in the atmosphere … building units that could easily click together while drawing energy from the solar side for their work. If they just kept doing it, year after year, decade after decade, it just might be possible. The wizard could certainly imagine a new and amazing Venus eventually emerging from the strivings of robotic ant-like creatures with a collective will. It is the collective will of a swarm of intelligent self creating robots that is the most interesting aspect of the thermostat project.