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Did a migrating Jupiter turn Venus into hell?

An image of Venus' thick atmosphere captured by NASA's Mariner 10 mission.
An image of Venus' thick atmosphere captured by NASA's Mariner 10 mission.
(Image: © NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Venus has had a somewhat complicated — and unfortunate — history. Planetary scientists suspect that billions of years ago, Venus was rather more like Earth: warm, pleasant, and flush with liquid water. But sometime in the past it lost its water and turned into a scorching-hot wasteland. 

According to a recent paper, Venus was doomed from the start, but may have been accelerated in its path to dry-town through the gravitational influence of none other than the great bully of the solar system: Jupiter.

Related: Photos of Venus, the mysterious planet next door

A wandering giant

The early solar system was a total Wild West: lawless and chaotic. For starters, astronomers now strongly suspect that the giant worlds didn't form in their present orbits. We can identify this through the shaping and sculpting of orbits in the asteroid belt and in the distribution of the icy remnants past the orbit of Neptune. By piecing together the gravitational clues from the holdovers of the formation of the solar system, it's clear that the giant planets first formed much farther out, then migrated inward closer to the sun.

However, we don't have a clear picture of exactly how that migration happened. In some models, Jupiter slowly inches closer over the course of hundreds of millions of years, followed by Saturn and the rest. But in other models, Jupiter jumps almost to the orbit of Mars before slinking back out to its present position.

Either way, a dancing Jupiter caused havoc for the inner planets. The mass of that planet is so great — it's 2.5 times more massive than all the other planets combined — that any little shift in its orbit pulls and plucks on anything else in the solar system.

Take, for instance, Venus. Currently, Venus has one of the most perfectly circular orbits in the entire solar system. Its eccentricity (the measure of how elliptical an orbit can get) is only 0.007, meaning that at closest approach Venus is 66.5 million miles (107 million kilometers) from the sun, and at its farthest it's … 67.7 million miles (109 million km) from the sun.

But according to a recent paper appearing in the preprint journal arXiv, if Jupiter happened to migrate inward closer to the sun, it could have tugged Venus into an extremely elliptical orbit, creating an eccentricity of up to 0.3. 

Since Venus no longer has that great of an eccentricity, something must have happened to circularize its orbit, and the authors of the paper suggest that it was ocean tides. If Venus had great liquid water oceans (which we suspect it did, since Venus and Earth are about the same size and had similar formation histories), then the tides on the oceans could have provided enough friction to stabilize the orbit of that planet into a nice, steady circle.

But that elongation of the orbit due to Jupiter may have had another catastrophic consequence: It could have hastened the transformation of Venus from tropical wetland to hellish nightmare.

Our solar system: A photo tour of the planets

A watery Venus

If you're a planet trying to hold on to your liquid water oceans, an eccentric orbit is a real pain in the neck. We already know from studies of Earth's own history that variations in our planet's eccentricity (due to, you guessed it, gravitational tweaks and tugs from the other planets) triggered ice ages and glaciation events. Indeed, some deep-time climate variations are directly connected to changes in our eccentricity.

But still, despite the occasional frozen moment, Earth has been able to hang on to its water. Poor Venus suffered a worse fate, however. If Venus got sent into a highly elliptical orbit due to the presence of Jupiter in the early days of the solar system, it spent some of its year far away from the sun (nice and cool) and some of its year way too close for comfort.

All told, the researchers calculate, Venus may have suffered from more heat exposure than is healthy. The problem is that radiation intensity increases rapidly for even small inward shifts in orbital position. The more time that Venus spent closer to the sun, the worse it suffered.

Even worse, the closer Venus was to the sun, the more it was susceptible to ultraviolet radiation blasts from solar flares, which were especially prominent when our sun was a young upstart.

The combination of increased heat and increased exposure to high-energy radiation set in motion Venus' downward, hellish spiral.

Boiled alive

As Venus lost its oceans, the water vapor in the atmosphere trapped heat. The trapped heat caused more water to evaporate, which put more water in the atmosphere, which trapped more heat, and round and round it went in a vicious greenhouse cycle. With no liquids to lubricate Venus' joints, plate tectonics stopped, allowing carbon dioxide to leak into the atmosphere to dramatic excess, locking in its fate.

Eventually, Venus turned itself inside out and cooked itself to death, leaving our neighbor a nightmare world. And it may have been accelerated on that path by a wandering, plundering Jupiter.

Venus is more than a cautionary tale for our own greenhouse gas emissions. You may have noticed that astronomers are very interested in exoplanets — worlds outside the solar system — and whether they might be homes for life. Venus sits just on the inside edge of what's called the habitable zone of our sun, the range where the intensity of light is just right to allow for liquid water on a world's surface.

But Venus' surface is very much not habitable at all (though its clouds may be another matter), and this may be the fault of Jupiter. When we go to examine the possibility of life on other worlds, the authors of the paper conclude, we have to pay attention to any giant planets in those systems. They may have performed similar acrobatics as Jupiter did, ruining any chances of life persisting on the inner worlds.

Read more: "Could the Migration of Jupiter have Accelerated the Atmospheric Evolution of Venus?"

Paul M. Sutter is an astrophysicist at SUNY Stony Brook and the Flatiron Institute, host of Ask a Spaceman and Space Radio, and author of Your Place in the Universe. Sutter contributed this article to Space.com's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

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  • rod
    The space.com report and the arxiv paper at https://arxiv.org/abs/2008.04927, offers much to chew on here :) Jupiter moving all around, some models less migration, others more and some models require hundreds of millions of years for Jupiter migration changes. Venus with an initial fast rotation period perhaps compared to its present very slow, retrograde rate. Venus with plenty of oceans on it at the start using tidal forces to slow and change its orbit, rotation. Venus today orbital eccentricity near 0.006 and in the model, perhaps moving around near 0.31 and becoming more circular as Venus evolves from near earth-like to the planet we see today.

    Verifying all the dynamic changes reported in this model I think will take sometime, so if folks read the report and arxiv paper, enjoy chewing on the data here :) Perhaps the report should be Venus moving all around too :)
    Reply
  • Geomartian

    When you get caught lying about something in science you explain around the contradictions using the “Voice of Authority” and the funding of your Master. You also slaughter a lot of unicorns and take teddy bears hostage.

    This story is a unicorn sandwich.

    This propaganda piece reminds me of the Palaeocene Eocene Thermal Maximum. The PETM was created by Houston Oil’s Ocean Drilling program. The PETM’s evidence is based upon redating the K/T boundary impact(s) layer by 10 million years. The K/T boundary is the most distinctive geological marker in ocean sediments for the last 100 million years.

    The PETM is not found on land so the IODP exclusive access allowed Houston to make up the geology that they found since no one (until recently) had the technical means to expose their fiction. Why isn’t the Japanese Drilling ship Chikyu checking up on Houston’s fictional geology? Pick a drilling site and see if the TAMU published data matches up with what the Japanese actually find?

    This Venus story is climate change propaganda just like the PETM. Do human activities affect the climate? Yes, they do. Are humans the primary drivers of climate change?

    You might want to wait a bit on that since we have less than 200 years of crude solar energy output measurements. Ice ages end, and then the carbon dioxide rises so the cycles don’t match up very well.

    Do we have to stop global warming by lowering carbon dioxide? What about shutting down the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) and letting England and Northern Europe go straight…. into a new ice age?
    Reply
  • Geomartian
    What if Jupiter moves around regularly? I am not selling you a bog, it is a great vacation spot.

    The GR model explaining the present conditions in the inner solar system appears to have crashed and burned so they have Jupiter moving around because? It is a very nice bog.

    Venus is a planet that has been recently (geologically) destroyed by an impact with another body.

    The present conditions found in Venus’ atmosphere are not the result of global warming. What kind of atmosphere would you expect to find on a planet that was heated to the point of total liquification by an impact?

    If Venus were still pristine, unchanged from its original formation from the Solar System accretionary disk (and there was no impact) how come Venus is rotating in the opposite direction now?

    Venus would have been left spinning in the correct direction after accreting in the disk.

    So how does Jupiter moving around explain the current conditions of Venus? I like mustard on my unicorn sandwich.
    Reply
  • Helio
    rod said:
    Venus with an initial fast rotation period perhaps compared to its present very slow, retrograde rate. Venus with plenty of oceans on it at the start using tidal forces to slow and change its orbit, rotation. Venus today orbital eccentricity near 0.006 and in the model, perhaps moving around near 0.31 and becoming more circular as Venus evolves from near earth-like to the planet we see today.
    That makes sense, though land also contributes to tidal stress and Venus may have been more fluid-like (non-seas) back then, perhaps.

    It would explain why it has such little rotation since tidal action often causes tidal lock. Tidal lock, however, only stops rotation so that it rotates with one face always toward the host, so how would Venus keep going and develop a slight retrograde rotation? Is that explained?

    In the early solar system for a protosun, the plowing action of the protoplanets through the disk would cause them to all migrate inward. The constant influx of planetismals from outside the orbits would produce, over millions of years perhaps, that outward movement even for Jupiter. Once the motions, in or out, get into resonance with others, migrations suddenly diminish. Saturn was the stop, apparently, for Jupiter's outward migration.

    There is yet to be a model that explains all the orbits observed today, but these models have come a long way.
    Reply
  • Tragaro
    Admin said:
    According to a recent paper, Venus was doomed from the start, but may have been accelerated in its path to dry-town through the gravitational influence of the great bully of the solar system: Jupiter.

    Did a migrating Jupiter turn Venus into hell? : Read more
    Velikovsky says "Hello."
    Reply
  • Helio
    Also, from the info in the article, I'd like to learn more about how an elliptical orbit causes more heating than cooling compared to a circular orbit. The majority of any eccentric orbit will be spent getting colder, so it's a bit ironic that the shorter time under hotter conditions wins the heating/cooling battle. I get the inverse square law for radiation means incremental closer distances will have a higher increase than moving outward, but time of exposure is important, too. Does heating always win regardless of eccentricity, or is there a sweet, or "hot spot", for an e value?
    Reply
  • Belemnite52
    Fine, but Venus rotation is linked to Earth, it shows us always same side, as Moon does, other indicate extreme temperatures there come from lava flows that interrupted the carbon uptake cycle by silicates on surface, and plate techtonics.
    There is some recent discussion about presence of molecules from living being in upper Venus atmosphere.
    If bacteria are the source, it can dwell only underground, there are some stone-eating rods here.
    For sure, Earth life expectations are short, in 100 million years, from Sun increasing radiation slowly but surely, Earth will no longer be in the condition of harboring life.
    Later, Sun will grow into a Red Giant, if Earth survives being engulfed inside solar atmosphere, when Sun recedes to a White dwarf, neutron star, Earth could be a good place for eves. Some may be watching us die or kill ourselves, and be waiting for a takeover.
    Some say a 'Wet Greenhouse' is possible today, an Spanish UFO writer, JJ Benítez, in '100.000 km tras los OVNI', ca 1976, claimed being told of an alien warning: a catastrophe is about to happen here, planet changed into a desert.
    Italian vident Teresa Musco, died 1976, described something similar to what Wikipedia calls 'The clathrate shotgun theory'; also global warming could trigger hurricanes, as in Luke's Gospel 21, 25-27. Bad times for lyrics! Blessings +
    Reply
  • Geomartian
    Tragaro said:
    Velikovsky says "Hello."
    Did the Oil Companies reveal the existence of the Chicxulub impact crater before or after Velikovsky?

    How is the interstellar asteroid impact coverup going? The damage done by Chicxulub was insignificant.

    How many people can identify an impact mechanism that is energetic enough to melt Venus while not splattering it all over the solar system (excluding Mercury da Venus).
    Reply
  • Wolfern
    rod said:
    The space.com report and the arxiv paper at https://arxiv.org/abs/2008.04927, offers much to chew on here :) Jupiter moving all around, some models less migration, others more and some models require hundreds of millions of years for Jupiter migration changes. Venus with an initial fast rotation period perhaps compared to its present very slow, retrograde rate. Venus with plenty of oceans on it at the start using tidal forces to slow and change its orbit, rotation. Venus today orbital eccentricity near 0.006 and in the model, perhaps moving around near 0.31 and becoming more circular as Venus evolves from near earth-like to the planet we see today.

    Verifying all the dynamic changes reported in this model I think will take sometime, so if folks read the report and arxiv paper, enjoy chewing on the data here :) Perhaps the report should be Venus moving all around too :)

    It is clear that "suspecting" something happened, for which there is no evidence, but would explain, if it might have happened that way, how something we believe to have been the case, could have explained something we have no way of knowing or testing.............. This supposition and make believe "science" is utter nonsense.
    Reply