Key Takeaways:

  • Venus faces extreme temperatures, crushing atmospheric pressures, and sulfuric acid clouds, making it inhospitable for life.
  • Scientists speculate Venus might have had oceans akin to Earth’s in the distant past, hinting at potential habitability.
  • A map by Alexis Huet envisions Venus with Earth-like water bodies, sparking interest but facing skepticism from scientists.
  • Venus’ dense clouds obstruct direct observation, and factors like erosion and plate tectonics aren’t considered in the map, raising doubts about its accuracy.
  • While some propose terraforming Venus, the focus remains on tackling Earth’s climate disruption, deemed more feasible.

The surface conditions of Venus are extreme, with temperatures high enough to liquefy lead and atmospheric pressures so intense they would crush most structures. Additionally, the clouds surrounding Venus are composed of sulfuric acid, rendering the planet devoid of surface water at present. Despite these harsh conditions, scientists speculate that billions of years ago, Venus may have possessed oceans akin to those found on Earth, potentially making it habitable. There have even been discussions about the possibility of terraforming Venus to restore it to a water-rich environment in the future.

An intriguing map, initially shared online by mathematician and data scientist Alexis Huet in 2014 and later reposted by Dragonite-2 on the MapPorn subreddit on August 20, 2020, has gained widespread attention. This map envisions Venus transformed into a world more akin to Earth, complete with significant bodies of water.

False-color map of globe of Venus showing highs and lows of the landscape.
Alexis Huet’s map posted to Reddit is based on spacecraft data. Most of our information about what lies beneath the dense clouds of Venus was obtained by the Soviet space probe missions Venera 15 and 16 and by the American Pioneer Venus and Magellan spacecraft during the period 1978 to 1994. Today we have good information about 98% of the surface of Venus, according to this page from ESO. This map comes from NOAA’s Science on a Sphere. It’s a compilation of Venus radar data, showing Venus’ topography as it’s known today. NOAA wrote: “Most of Venus appears to be covered with gently rolling plains. Two areas rise up above the rest of the surface and are referred to as ‘continents.’”

The accuracy of this depiction raises questions. Given Venus’s dense cloud cover obstructing direct surface observation, scientists rely on radar imaging from orbiting spacecraft to map its terrain. Through this technology, Venus’s surface features such as mountain ranges, volcanoes, and plains have been charted. Leveraging this data, Alexis Huet and Dragonite-2 created a visualization of Venus with Earth-like water content.

Their depiction reveals intriguing details. With an Earth-like water quantity, Venus would boast a single vast continent, named Ishtar Terra, situated predominantly in the northern hemisphere. Comparable in size to Australia, Ishtar Terra hosts Venus’s tallest peak, Maxwell Montes. Additionally, another substantial landmass, Aphrodite Terra, akin to the size of South America when stretched along the equator, would lie near Venus’s equatorial region. The map also illustrates smaller land formations dispersed throughout Venus’s hypothetical global oceans.

On August 29, 2020, Mike Brown’s article for Writing in Inverse discussed a novel depiction of Venus as a water world. Quoting insights from Paul Byrne, an associate professor of planetary sciences at North Carolina State University, Brown articulated that the map’s basis lies in the incorporation of real-world digital elevation models for Venus with the addition of a hypothetical ‘sea level’.

The portrayal of Venus with Earth-like oceans prompts considerations regarding the accuracy of such a depiction. Byrne suggested that the map likely utilized an average ocean depth for Earth to simulate flooded Venus topography. However, he pointed out that erosion by rainfall, rivers, and lakes would significantly alter Venus’ surface over time, a factor not accounted for in the map’s presentation which depicts Venus without plate tectonics.

In reality, a water-covered Venus would likely experience plate tectonics, akin to Earth’s gradual movement of land plates on the crust, affecting the distribution of continents and islands. However, Byrne highlighted the impracticality of Venus as a water world under current conditions due to its extreme heat, rendering the map inaccurate in representing present-day Venus.

Nevertheless, such imaginative depictions allow for contemplation on Venus’ past or potential future states. Byrne mused on the possibility of Venus once harboring oceans, contrasting the current bleak reality with speculative visions of a more hospitable Venus through terraforming efforts. While terraforming Mars is a familiar concept, transforming Venus into an Earth-like habitat presents greater challenges due to its harsh surface conditions.

Map depicting Venus’ surface as if it had oceans. Image via Alexis Huet/ Dragonite-2/ Reddit.

Despite the difficulties, some, including renowned astronomer Carl Sagan, have proposed methods for Venusian terraforming since the 1960s. Sagan’s idea of seeding Venus’ clouds with algae was later deemed unfeasible due to the planet’s dense atmosphere. However, the discourse on terraforming continues, with references to historical proposals and contemporary scientific discourse on the subject.

The exploration of Venus’ potential transformation into a water world invites contemplation and stimulates discussions on the feasibility and implications of such endeavors. Below, a brief video animation illustrates a hypothetical gradual transition of Venus’ surface towards a water-dominated landscape, capturing the imagination and curiosity surrounding planetary evolution and adaptation.

Undoubtedly, the primary challenge in the process of terraforming Venus lies in the daunting task of reversing the runaway greenhouse effect, responsible for elevating the planet’s temperatures to the extreme levels observed today. This endeavor would not come without significant obstacles. It necessitates vast amounts of energy coupled with cutting-edge technology. Nonetheless, Paul Byrne highlights potential advantages in terraforming Venus over Mars. Byrne underscores that Venus shares striking similarities with Earth in terms of size and gravity, positing that it might be comparatively easier to mitigate the greenhouse effect by extracting carbon dioxide, the predominant component of its atmosphere, than to augment gases in Mars’ thin atmosphere to raise its temperature. Byrne remarked:

Given the choice for terraforming, Venus would be my preference over Mars. However, it must be emphasized: prioritizing efforts to mitigate climate disruption on Earth itself is considerably more feasible than attempting to render any other celestial body remotely habitable for humans.

This perspective is indeed noteworthy.

Therefore, while the accuracy of Huet’s depiction of Venus on Reddit may be contested by scientists, it stimulates contemplation. It offers a captivating glimpse into a version of Venus previously unexplored, possibly resembling its past state. Furthermore, it presents a tantalizing vision of a potential future world.

For those intrigued by the concept of habitable worlds through terraforming, there’s another intriguing creation shared by Dragonite-2 on the subreddit MapPorn, following shortly after the Venus map. This depiction, also sourced from Alexis Huet’s blog, portrays Earth’s moon transformed into a water-covered entity.

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