Advertisement

Could Venus once have had oceans that harboured life?

Venus, computer artwork.
Did Venus once have the ability to sustain life? (Getty)

A new study has suggested that there might once have been oceans on Venus, a planet which is hot, dry and incredibly hostile to life today.

The study suggests that if there were oceans, they existed three billion years ago – and at that point, the planet might even have harboured life.

The planet Venus is sometimes described as ‘Earth’s twin’, because its geology is similar to our planet, but a runaway greenhouse effect transformed it into a truly hellish world.

The surface is hot enough to melt lead, and the planet is shrouded in sulphuric acid.

But the new study suggests that things may have been very different long ago – and water and clouds could even have sustained habitable conditions.

Read more: Why economists worry that reversing climate change is hopeless

Researchers at the University of Chicago, Department of Geophysical Sciences, built a new computer model to test out whether it was feasible water once cooled Venus’s surface.

One theory suggests that Venus may have always been hot, losing its oxygen as magma cooled and never forming liquid water on its surface.

A build up of greenhouse gases in Venus's atmosphere burned off its oceans and turned it into the scorching hot planet seen today

Read more: A 1988 warning about climate change was mostly right

Other theories suggest that Venus may have had a moderate surface temperature with liquid water on the surface, as recently as 700 million years ago.

The University of Chicago researchers ran their climate model 94,000 times to find out which scenarios were most realistic for a Venus with oceans.

If Venus had oceans, they needed to end three billion years ago with a maximum ocean depth of just under 1,000ft, the researchers say.

Watch: Is Jupiter the reason for life on Earth?