Cloud Cities On Venus?
Venus' southern hemisphere, as seen in the ultraviolet.
Credit: ESA

It's not easy to find comfortable places to stay elsewhere in the solar system. However, Geoffrey Landis, a scientist at NASA's Glenn Research Center, suggests that Venus might be a good place to look.

I know what you're thinking. Venus? Surface temperature of 914 degrees Fahrenheit (490 degrees Celsius) with about 92 times the atmospheric pressure of Earth's surface? Doesn't sound very hospitable.

However, Landis, a science fiction writer in his spare time, suggests that we think a bit outside the box. In a recent interview, he suggested building a city in the clouds about 31 miles (50 kilometers) above the surface.

At that altitude, the atmosphere of Venus is at its most Earth-like. The atmosphere has an air pressure of about one bar and the temperature ranges in the 32-122 degrees Fahrenheit range (0-50 degrees Celsius). You'd need breathing apparatus, but probably not a space suit.

Landis adds that a city might not be as difficult to build — and to keep afloat — as you might think.

"Because the atmosphere of Venus is CO2, the gases that we live in all the time, nitrogen and oxygen, would be a lifting gas," Landis said. "On Earth, we know to get something to lift, you need something lighter than air. Well, on Venus, guess what? Our air is lighter than air, or at least lighter than the Venus atmosphere."

"If you could just take the room you're sitting in and replace the walls with something thinner, the room would float on Venus," he remarked.

SF fans are no doubt hoping that Lando Calrissian will be available to act as administrator; as long as you're building Cloud City, you might as well do it right.

Star Wars fans may recall that Cloud City is an installation on the planet Bespin, first seen in The Empire Strikes Back in 1980. Bespin has a habitable layer from about 93-112 miles (150-180 kilometers) down from space with an oxygen atmosphere and normal pressure.

Another example of this idea in science fiction is Stratos City from the 1969 Star Trek episode The Cloud Minders.

Readers with an interest in the classics know that this is not a new idea; the floating island of Laputa forms one of the wondrous locations of interest in Jonathan Swift's book Gulliver's Travels, which was published in 1728.

From Colonizing Venus with floating cities.

(This Science Fiction in the News story used with permission of