Geoffrey Landis has proposed aerostat habitats followed by floating cities in the atmosphere of Venus. It is based on the concept that breathable air (21:79 Oxygen/Nitrogen mixture) is a lifting gas in the dense carbon dioxide atmosphere, with over 60% of the lifting power that helium has on Earth. In effect, a balloon full of human-breathable air would sustain itself and extra weight (such as a colony) in midair. At an altitude of 50 kilometers (31 mi) above Venusian surface, the environment is the most Earth-like in the solar system – a pressure of approximately 1 bar and temperatures in the 0°C–50°C range. Because there is not a significant pressure difference between the inside and the outside of the breathable-air balloon, any rips or tears would cause gases to diffuse at normal atmospheric mixing rates rather than an explosive decompression, giving time to repair any such damages. In addition, humans would not require pressurized suits when outside, merely air to breathe, protection from the acidic rain and on some occasions low level protection against heat. Alternatively, two-part domes could contain a lifting gas like hydrogen or helium (extractable from the atmosphere) to allow a higher mass density.
At the top of the clouds the wind speed on Venus reaches up to 95 m/s (approximately 212 mph), circling the planet approximately every four Earth days in a phenomenon known as “super-rotation”. Colonies floating in this region could therefore have a much shorter day length by remaining untethered to the ground and moving with the atmosphere. Allowing a colony to move freely would also reduce structural stress from the wind.
Paul Birch proposed a slatted system of mirrors near the L1 point between Venus and the Sun. The shade’s panels would not be perpendicular to the sun’s rays, but instead at an angle of 30 degrees, such that the reflected light would strike the next panel, negating the photon pressure. Each successive row of panels would be +/- 1 degree off the 30-degree deflection angle, causing the reflected light to be skewed 4 degrees from striking Venus.
Cooling could also be effected by placing reflectors in the atmosphere or on the surface. Reflective balloons floating in the upper atmosphere could create shade. The number and/or size of the balloons would necessarily be great. Geoffrey A. Landis has suggested that if enough floating cities were built, they could form a solar shield around the planet, and could simultaneously be used to process the atmosphere into a more desirable form, thus combining the solar shield theory and the atmospheric processing theory with a scalable technology that would immediately provide living space in the Venusian atmosphere. If made from carbon nanotubes (recently fabricated into sheet form) or graphene (a sheet-like carbon allotrope), then the major structural materials can be produced using carbon dioxide gathered in situ from the atmosphere. The recently synthesised amorphous carbonia might prove a useful structural material if it can be quenched to STP conditions, perhaps in a mixture with regular silica glass. According to Birch’s analysis such colonies and materials would provide an immediate economic return from colonizing Venus, funding further terraforming efforts.
Increasing the planet’s albedo by deploying light color or reflective material on the surface could help keep the atmosphere cool. The amount would be large and would have to be put in place after the atmosphere had been modified already, since Venus’s surface is currently completely shrouded by clouds.
An advantage of atmospheric and surface cooling solutions is that they take advantage of existing technology. A disadvantage is that Venus already has highly reflective clouds (giving it an albedo of 0.65), so any approach would have to significantly surpass this to make a difference.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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