an astro-chat with
Professor Don Kurtz
Visiting Professor, School of Mathematics and Physics, University of Lincoln, UK
Friday, 30 July 2021
Venus is the beautiful, bright “evening star” I can see now from South Africa. It is more difficult for those of you in Lincoln at high northern latitudes. Venus is not a star. It is a rocky planet that is a near twin to our Earth in size. But it is 30% closer to the Sun, and therein lies all the difference. Venus’s atmosphere is 96% Carbon Dioxide (CO2), the potent greenhouse gas that is causing climate change here on Earth, where it makes up only 0.04% of the atmosphere. Venus is the hottest planet in the solar system – 460 C! The thick atmosphere has a surface pressure 90 times that here on Earth at sea level. The clouds of Venus are made of concentrated sulphuric acid! If you could go to Venus and stand on the surface, you would be suffocated by the CO2, fried by the temperature, crushed by the pressure and dissolved by the clouds. This is no place for life! Or is it? Last year a group of astronomers led by Professor Jane Greaves of Cardiff University reported in the prestigious journal, Nature, the discovery of Phosphine high in the atmosphere of Venus where the temperature and pressure are similar to what we enjoy here on Earth. There is no known way to produce Phosphine in the conditions in Venus’s atmosphere, except by life processes. Could there be life floating high in the atmosphere of Venus where conditions are, at least, not-so-bad? What an exciting idea! But this is science. More recent reports in Nature have been unable to reproduce the discovery using the same data from the giant €2 billion Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) radio telescope in Chile. The jury is still out. Venus may be Earth’s “evil twin”, but its beauty makes it a memorable sight.
This is our third Astro-Chat with our distinguished guest Professor Don Kurtz. The session will include a brief illustrated introduction followed by questions and answers. Members of the public will be able to ask questions in the live-chat. The event is hosted by Professor Andrei Zvelindovsky, Head of the School of Maths & Physics at the University of Lincoln, UK.