Volcanoes are the worst. They’ve caused extinctions on Earth, and probably killed Venus

This is a computer-generated, three-dimensional perspective of the surface of Venus showing Maat Mons. It's Venus's highest volcano and is 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) high. The viewpoint is located 634 kilometers (393 miles) north of Maat Mons at an elevation of 3 kilometers (2 miles) above the terrain. Lava flows extend for hundreds of kilometers across the fractured plains shown in the foreground, to the base of Maat Mons. The vertical scale in this perspective has been exaggerated 10 times. Credits: NASA/JPL

Is there anything good about volcanoes? They can be violent, dangerous, and unpredictable. For modern humans, volcanoes are mostly an inconvenience, sometimes an intriguing visual display, and occasionally deadly.

But when there’s enough of them, and when they’re powerful and prolonged, they can kill the planet that hosts them.

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Venus Could Have Supported Life for Billions of Years

Artist's conception of a terraformed Venus, showing a surface largely covered in oceans. Credit: Wikipedia Commons/Ittiz

In 1978, NASA’s Pioneer Venus (aka. Pioneer 12) mission reached Venus (“Earth’s Sister”) and found indications that Venus may have once had oceans on its surface. Since then, several missions have been sent to Venus and gathered data on its surface and atmosphere. From this, a picture has emerged of how Venus made the transition from being an “Earth-like” planet to the hot and hellish place it is today.

It all started about 700 million years ago when a massive resurfacing event triggered a runaway Greenhouse Effect that caused Venus’s atmosphere to become incredibly dense and hot. This means that for 2 to 3 billion years after Venus formed, the planet could have maintained a habitable environment. According to a recent study, that would have been long enough for life to have emerged on “Earth’s Sister”.

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Venus Compared to Earth

Earth and Venus. Image credit: NASA

Venus is often referred to as “Earth’s Twin” (or “sister planet”), and for good reason. Despite some rather glaring differences, not the least of which is their vastly different atmospheres, there are enough similarities between Earth and Venus that many scientists consider the two to be closely related. In short, they are believed to have been very similar early in their existence, but then evolved in different directions.

Earth and Venus are both terrestrial planets that are located within the Sun’s Habitable Zone (aka. “Goldilocks Zone”) and have similar sizes and compositions. Beyond that, however, they have little in common. Let’s go over all their characteristics, one by one, so we can in what ways they are  different and what ways they are similar.

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