By Aditi Srivastava, May 10, 2022 12:30
Decades of research reveal that Earth is the only planet in our solar system with oceans where life began. The findings of US space agency, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Venus, Earth's sister planet and the hottest in our solar system, was once much wetter than it is now. However, it has now gotten dry for unknown reasons. On May 9, 2022; NASA will launch a new mission to the North Pole called 'Endurance' to see if our planet faces a similar fate. Here’s more about it.
What is the Endurance mission?
One question that has intrigued scientists for a long time is: Why does Earth support life while Venus and Mars or any other planet in the universe doesn’t? Well, the Endurance mission that will launch on May 9 from Ny-lesund in Svalbard, Norway, will aim to calculate the Earth's global electric potential. To put it another way, it will figure out how much the Earth's electric field tugs on electrically charged particles in our atmosphere. This electric potential is supposed to be relatively weak, making measurement impossible, which is why Earth can support life.
What will Endurance mission do?
The Endurance rocket, according to NASA, will measure electrons leaving from Earth's atmosphere, which has been happening for billions of years. Several attempts have been made to measure Earth's electric potential, but none has been successful because it is weaker than a watch battery. If the mission is successful, scientists, for the first time, will be able to explain why Earth's water is still present despite the fact that our planet, like Venus, has an ionosphere.
Why Earth can support life unlike Venus?
Now, we all know that Earth is a watery planet, which is one of the primary reasons for its ability to support life. However, the same could have been said about Venus billions of years ago. Scientists believe Venus was previously considerably wetter than it is now, but it has subsequently dried out for reasons we don't fully understand. Figuring this reason out could indicate a major distinction from Earth as well as a key component for a habitable world on the Earth’s closest neighbour (Venus).
What has led to Venus losing its water?
The Venus Express mission of the European Space Agency (ESA) detected a clue in 2016. A 10-volt electric potential was observed around the planet, indicating that positively charged particles would be drawn away from its surface. Like a planet-wide vacuum cleaner, this electric potential could draw away components of water, such as positively charged oxygen that is split from its hydrogen atoms by intense sunlight. Over time, this electric potential may have played a role in draining Venus’ water away to space.
Will a similar phenomenon occur on Earth too?
The findings from Venus prompted concerns about Earth. The ionosphere, Venus' electrically charged outer layer of atmosphere, creates the planet's electric potential. Earth also has an ionosphere. Is Earth's electric potential identical, and if so, why is our water still here? Scientists are of the opinion that “We think one of the reasons Earth may be habitable is because we have this very weak electrical potential,” Collinson said. The Endurance team estimates strength of about 0.3 volts, some 25 times weaker than on Venus and so weak it has foiled all previous attempts at measurement.