The Best of All Worlds #8: Venus
For millennia, Venus was known as the Morning Star and the Evening Star. It’s the brightest object in the night sky other than the Moon, and it can even be seen during the daytime if you know just where to look for it. Second from the Sun, Venus was named after the Roman goddess of love and beauty. It became a symbol of femininity. In early science fiction, Venus was depicted as a warm and lush planet, a paradise of sorts. After all, it was the same size as Earth, but closer to the Sun while still remaining in the habitable zone of the star. Its apparent cloud cover must conceal a tropical climate, a world of wonders—that was the thinking. Surely Venus must be the best planet.
Wrong. Venus is the worst planet.
In 1967, the Soviet probe Venera 4 entered the atmosphere of Venus. It didn’t even reach the surface because the atmosphere was so dense that the probe’s descent was slowed down and its batteries died. But even 26 km above the surface, the venerable Soviet robot measured an atmospheric pressure 22 times that of the sea-level pressure on Earth. Even at that altitude, the temperature had already soared to over 260° C, and the atmosphere consisted of over 90% carbon dioxide. Subsequent Venera probes would land on the surface only to be crushed by a pressure of 92 Earth atmospheres (and eventually melted into bubbling blobs by the infernal heat).
It turns out that our paradise sister planet is actually a ghastly hellscape.
What went wrong? How could Earth’s twin sister, more coddled by the Sun than even the Earth itself, end up a horrid mess? The answer is a runaway greenhouse effect. The carbon dioxide content in Venus’ atmosphere has led the planet to cook itself alive. Heck, you can’t even float a cloud city on top of the dense atmosphere because the upper clouds of sulfuric acid would batter your city and eat holes in it, holes which you would fall through and then be crushed and cooked and corroded to death before your body could be dashed to pieces against the volcanic rocks.
And that’s why Venus is the worst planet. There was so much potential here, so much Earth-likeness, so much romance. And Venus squandered it all. Heck, it can’t even rotate in the right direction (it rotates clockwise instead of counter-clockwise like a good planet would do). Venus is a failure of a planet and we should all be ashamed of it, like that creepy uncle in the old family photo that your parents refuse to discuss.
But hey, feel free to vote for another planet as the worst. You’re among friends here; it’s okay to be wrong. And vote for the best planet too, while you’re at it.