University of Arkansas researchers have received a three-year, $417,000 NASA grant to study the interaction between the atmosphere and surface of Venus.
The funding will allow scientists to simulate conditions on the surface of Venus in the W.M. Keck Laboratory’s Venus chamber, one of five such simulators at the university.
The school said Venus is of particular interest because its hot, dense atmosphere has the properties of both a liquid and a gas close to the planet’s surface.
Vincent Chevrier, an associate professor at the Arkansas Center for Space and Planetary Sciences, said in the news release that it’s not well understood how minerals on Venus’ surface will react in a supercritical atmosphere because there are few places that can simulate the planet’s extreme conditions. Atmospheric pressure at the surface is about 95 times higher than Earth, while the temperature reaches 460 degrees Celsius, or 860 degrees Fahrenheit.
Venus’ atmosphere is also rich in carbon dioxide, which in a supercritical state is a solvent with industrial uses, most commonly in dry cleaning clothes. “It can dissolve oil or other organics and it doesn't leave any residue,” Chevrier said. “Maybe it can dissolve other materials on planetary surfaces, kind of like the ocean contains salt. Maybe there are compounds dissolved in the CO2 that could completely upset the balance and the chemical models in the atmosphere of Venus and completely change the way we see chemical models.”
In addition, phosphine gas was recently discovered in Venus’ atmosphere. “There could be a whole collection of reactions we do not really know about because they happen differently in a supercritical fluid,” Chevrier said. “That was one of my arguments against phosphine being a life marker. We need to exhaust all possible atmospheric scenarios before saying it is related to the existence of life.”