Here’s why you should never, ever visit the surface of Venus

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venera 13 venus surface don p mitchell

A
colorized photo of the surface of Venus. It was taken by Russia’s
Venera 13 spacecraft on March 1, 1982.


Soviet
Space Agency; IPF APOD; Don P. Mitchell



If there’s one patch of solid ground in the solar system you
should never, ever visit, it’s the surface of Venus.

Not even hardened robotic probes are a match for conditions
there. One of the last to make it to the planet’s surface —
Russia’s Venera 13 lander — barely lasted 2 hours before
croaking.

“Venus is very, very corrosive,” Gustavo Costa, a chemist and
materials scientist at NASA Glenn Research Center, recently told
Business Insider.

“It’s like Hell on Earth,” Costa said. “It’s very harsh.”

Costa would know. He works on
the Glenn Extreme Environments Rig (GEER)
: a 14-ton steel
chamber that can faithfully recreate the toxic, choking, and
scorching-hot conditions on the surface of Venus, a
once-habitable twin of Earth gone very, very wrong.

NASA fired up GEER for the
first time
in 2014, permitting Costa and other researchers to
exposed all kinds of metals, ceramics, wires, mesh, plating, and
electronics to their tiny version of Hell to see what lasts — and
what gets obliterated.

Here’s what it’d be like to walk upon the surface (before you
inevitably die, that is).

Venus is Earth’s deadly twin


venus nasa

Venus
in true color.


NASA


The second planet from the sun was, and still is, very similar to
Earth. Venus is rocky
and has roughly 82% the mass and 90%
the surface gravity
of Earth. If you weigh 150 lbs on Earth,
you’d feel approximately 15 lbs lighter on Venus.

Venus also has a persistent atmosphere and orbits in the
sun’s “habitable
zone
,” where water can exist as a liquid. Some researchers
think the planet once had warm, shallow oceans that were
cozy to life for about 2 billion years
. (That could be about
1.2 billion years long enough for life to emerge and thrive, if
you’re using
Earth as a scorecard
.)

But Venus lost its water, carbon dioxide began clogging up its
atmosphere, and — initially due to runaway global warming —
cooked itself to a crisp.

We know this thanks to data beamed back by nearly two dozen
successful missions to the planet, including eight orbiters and
10 landers. Those missions revealed that Venusian surface “air”
isn’t really air: It’s 97% carbon dioxide that is so compressed,
it’s roughly 100 times thicker than Earth’s atmosphere. It’s also
a blistering 864 degrees Fahrenheit (462 degrees Celsius).

What it would feel like there


glenn extreme environments rig geer venus hell chamber nasa

A technician works on
NASA’s Venus-simulating GEER experiment.


GEER/NASA Glenn
Research Center



Costa says GEER, which puts everything humanity has learned about
Venusian surface conditions into 800 liters of space, has
revealed just how strange the atmosphere is at the planet’s
surface.

“It’s a supercritical fluid mixture, not just a gas,” Costa said.

Supercritical fluids behave like a gas
and a liquid
at the same time. If you drink
decaffeinated coffee
, you benefit from them: supercritical
carbon dioxide is typically washed over coffee beans to penetrate
deep inside them and dissolve away most of their caffeine.

Costa says walking around the surface of Venus would feel like
walking through air that’s as thick as a pool of water.

The pressure would feel equivalent to being 3,000 feet (914
meters) underwater. A “breeze” of a few miles per hour might feel
like a gentle wave pushing you around at shore — though it’d be
hot enough to melt lead.

“It’s difficult to imagine this. I guess it’d be like sticking
yourself inside a pressure cooker,” Costa said. It might also
feel like being shoved inside an overfull SodaStream
CO2 cartridge that’s baking in a furnace.

Your death would not end with this torture, though: the
atmosphere of Venus also has trace amounts of hydrogen fluoride,
hydrogen chloride, hydrogen sulfide, and sulfuric acid.

These are extremely dangerous chemicals that can either dissolve
human flesh or poison our bodies.

“Instead of having water vapor clouds, Venus has sulfuric acid
clouds,” he said. “And you have to go through those to even get
to the surface. That is terrifying.”

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