MAY 07, 2024 1:40 PM PDT

Venus Unveiled: The Mystery of Water Loss Revealed

How did the planet Venus lose its water? This debate has rage on for some time and something a recent study published in Nature hopes to address as a team of researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder (UCB) and the University of Arizona (UoA) as they have potentially conducted a groundbreaking study that could help explain the processes responsible for making Venus the hellish world it is today, whereas scientists have long hypothesized that the second planet from the Sun was much more hospitable billions of years ago.

“Water is really important for life,” said Dr. Eryn Cangi, who is a research scientist at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at UCB and a co-author of the study. “We need to understand the conditions that support liquid water in the universe, and that may have produced the very dry state of Venus today.”

For the study, the researchers used a series of computer models to challenge previous studies regarding the mechanisms and speed that Venus lost its water. In the end, the team attributed Venus’ water loss to a process called “dissociative recombination”, which occurs when molecules are broken down and other molecules form as a result. While this process does not naturally occur on Earth and has been found difficult to replicate in the lab, it is a fundamental process in space physics and understanding how the rest of universe works.

With dissociative recombination, the researchers concluded that Venus lost its water at twice the speed of previous estimates. Additionally, they also claimed that a molecule called HCO+ was responsible for this dissociative recombination, as well. When HCO+ is split apart after combining with an electron, the now-free hydrogen atoms use the CO to catapult into space at incredible speeds, leading to Venus slowly losing its hydrogen, and eventually water. This study continues the debate over how Venus and Earth took such diverted evolutionary paths, despite their similar sizes.

Artist’s illustration of dissociative recombination occurring in the atmosphere of Venus, resulting in loss of hydrogen atoms, and ultimately water from the planet. (Credit: Aurore Simonnet / Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics / University of Colorado Boulder)

“We’re trying to figure out what little changes occurred on each planet to drive them into these vastly different states,” said Dr. Cangi.  

What new discoveries will researchers make about Venus and how it lost its water in the coming years and decades? Only time will tell, and this is why we science!

As always, keep doing science & keep looking up!

Sources: Nature, EurekAlert!

About the Author
Master's (MA/MS/Other)
Laurence Tognetti is a six-year USAF Veteran who earned both a BSc and MSc from the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University. Laurence is extremely passionate about outer space and science communication, and is the author of "Outer Solar System Moons: Your Personal 3D Journey".
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