Thursday, July 02, 2009

"Around Venus By Balloon": Is French short subject a warning about runaway greenhouse effect on Earth?

A group from France called the European Venus Explorer offers a 7 minute film called “Around Venus By Balloon,” (2004) directed by Maarten Rove, with Colin Wilson and Ian Davison. The film can be found and downloaded from here and will play readily in Quicktime or Real Player.

The film starts out with a brief primer on hot air ballooning on Earth (indeed, recalling Jules Verne perhaps) and then simulates a week-long blowup around Venus at 60 kilometers elevation, where the temperature is about 70 F and the pressure ½ of the Earth’s. One the surface, the pressure is 92 atmospheres and temperature 900F, hot enough to melt lead. The atmosphere is so thick that a beam of light might encircle the planet, and an astronaut could see the back of his pate.

What happened is that most of the carbon on Venus got released into the atmosphere, rather than getting bound into the ground. That is a tragedy. One paper here suggests that were Mars and Venus to have switched positions five billion years ago, they might both have life and be real competitors of Earth – maybe a solar system economy rather than a global one. That’s because a smaller planet might have stayed at the right temperature and pressure closer to the sun, and a bigger one in Mars’s orbit could have stayed warmer.

Other accounts say that Venus once had water, and maybe even life, maybe even a civilization, and then a catastrophic runaway greenhouse effect occurred, maybe over a short time like a hundred million years or so. Perhaps the surface of Venus is so volcanic that the surface turns itself out – more or less the same as a “supervolcano” megadisaster on Earth. The clouds contain sulfuric acid, evidence of super volcanic activity.

The warning for earthlings is that maybe the same thing could happen to us, unexpectedly, at least on paper, in a sci-fi or Ion channel film.

Attribution link for NASA picture of Venus Pioneer.

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