Venus, Earth’s nearest neighbour, was once like our planet, brimming with oceans and a cooler climate. However, over billions of years, greenhouse gasses built up inside the atmosphere, turning it into the 400C hell that it is today. New research has found Venus may have stayed Earth-like, with the right conditions for life, if it was not for Jupiter.
Jupiter is so massive – around 11 times the size of Earth with a mass of more than 300 times our planet – that its gravitational pull affects the other planets in the solar system.
Over the course of the solar system’s 4.6 billion year history, Jupiter has moved closer to, and subsequently away from, the Sun.
While doing so, it pushed and pulled Earth and Venus with it, according to the research from the University of California Riverside (UCR).
However, with Venus being closer to the Sun than Earth is, when Jupiter edged closer to our host star, Venus was pushed a little too close.
As a result, the planet went through a drastic process of climate change, evaporating the oceans and allowing greenhouse gasses to spiral out of control.
UCR astrobiologist Stephen Kane said: “One of the interesting things about the Venus of today is that its orbit is almost perfectly circular.
“With this project, I wanted to explore whether the orbit has always been circular and if not, what are the implications of that?”
Dr Kane created a simulation which calculated the planets of the solar system throughout its history and how the celestial bodies influenced one another.
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Dr Kane said: “As Jupiter migrated, Venus would have gone through dramatic changes in climate, heating up then cooling off and increasingly losing its water into the atmosphere.”
The UCR scientist added that the results of the study could help influence the future of Earth’s climate.
He said: “I focus on the differences between Venus and Earth, and what went wrong for Venus, so we can gain insight into how the Earth is habitable, and what we can do to shepherd this planet as best we can.”